LOWER EAST SIDE — Community gardeners are looking to protect their green spaces by asking the city to make the Lower East Side and East Village a “Community Gardens District.”
The designation would highlight the neighborhoods’ history of community gardening as well as protect the green spaces by having the city protect them as park land, supporters said at a recent community board meeting.
“There’s no permanency so that’s what we’re trying to establish,” said Daniel Roberts, a member of the El Sol Brillante Jr. community garden who spoke in favor of the district during the Jan. 15 meeting.
“We’ve all worked in gardens for a really long time and to see our investment just disappear like that, that's what we're trying to prevent."
The neighborhoods once had close to 60 registered community gardens but many were bulldozed as the area gentrified, supporters said. Although only 46 gardens remain, the area has the highest concentration of community gardens in the city, they said.
Most of the gardens however, sit on city-owned land, leaving them vulnerable to development, the gardeners said.
“Even with the storied history and widely acknowledged benefits of community gardens, all city-owned community gardens are still documented in city records as vacant lots and are subject to revocation at any time,” said community board member Ayo Harrington, a longtime resident who initiated the districting effort.
Just last week, 15 community gardens outside the area learned they could be bulldozed to make way for new buildings under the mayor’s affordable housing plan.
If the gardens are designated as parkland however, the law would require the state legislature to weigh in before the gardens could be removed, Harrington said. Community gardeners said they would continue to maintain the green spaces.
According to the Parks Department — which runs the city’s GreenThumb community gardening program — “the interim nature of the garden” is made clear when a group wins approval to start a community garden, a spokesman said.
Once a garden is approved by the city, he said, gardeners must write a letter to the community board indicating that it understands that the garden is not permanent and that will not hinder development plans.
“Community gardens are an important part of New York’s vibrant urban landscape. The City works closely with communities to identify underutilized parcels for community gardens, and should one garden close, the City endeavors to find replacement sites nearby so that the garden may continue,” the spokesman said in a statement.
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Community gardeners who spoke at the meeting said the gardens were more than just pockets of greenery. The gardens function as community gathering spaces, they said, and can be used to teach local children about the environment and nature.
William LoSasso, another committee member and the director of La Plaza Cultural, located on East Ninth Street between Avenues B and C, said it was his involvement in the garden that inspired him to become more active in the community.
“When I moved to this neighborhood, I knew nobody except my roommate and I started hanging around at La Plaza and that’s really how I got to know my community,” he said.
The gardens also attract tourists and have been featured in guidebooks and articles from around the world, supporters said.
The district, Harrington said, received letters of support from 39 community gardens, mostly within CB3, as well as local organizations and elected officials. An online petition supporting the district has also received more than 600 signatures.
CB3’s Parks, Recreation, Cultural Affairs, Landmarks, & Waterfront Committee voted unanimously in favor of a resolution supporting a district during its Jan. 15 meeting at the BRC Senior Services Center located at 30 Delancey St.
CB3 will vote on the resolution during its full board meeting on Jan. 27.