Inverview with NYCCGC Executive Director Aziz Dehkan
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Selections from the interview:
What has been the role of NYCCGC in the community garden movement in NYC?
In 2002, NYCCGC forged an agreement between the city and the state attorneys general, transferring 198 gardens to the NYC Parks Department, securing permanent protection for them. NYCCGC also stopped a citywide land auction that would have destroyed 115 community gardens. We advocated with state legislators to create the Office of Community Gardens within the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets. NYCCGC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) application that forced New York City to disclose the history and legal status of community gardens and open spaces, and we then secured lease extensions from the city for each garden -- from original one-year leases to the present four-year leases. The 2002 agreement with the State Attorney General expired, replaced in 2010 by the Bloomberg administration with new rules, framed as a means of preserving the city's 282 gardens and offering firm pledges of protection to 198 gardens. At the time, NYCCGC was cautiously optimistic, even calling it a victory. These past 15 years have shown that rules and regulations are subject to change. Today gardens continue to be subject to destruction and developers.
What challenges do the city's community gardens face today; what does the future look like?
Currently there are more than 500 community gardens in New York City. Many are vulnerable to development, particularly those on land still held by the NYC Department for Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). In the face of gentrification and commercial real estate development pressures, the community gardeners of affected gardens -- empowered by NYCCGC and allies -- are working as hard as they can with very limited resources to fiercely resist by showing up in massive numbers at Community Board meetings; organizing lawsuits and taking developers to court; creating draft legislation calling for the permanent preservation of all community gardens; and raising their issues, their voices at every city-wide level.
I do believe that we have momentum, we are in a place where the value of community gardens is being recognized on more levels than ever before.
Does any one garden or perhaps volunteer you worked with stick out in your mind and why?
At a recent New York City Community Garden Coalition meeting, I heard the story of a gardener who has lived in his apartment for 26 years and doesn't know his across-the-hall neighbor. Yet, he knows the people in his community through his local community garden. That interaction is what makes New York City a livable place. When I hear stories like this, I know that the work of New York City Community Garden Coalition is vital and continues to make New York City great.