NEW YORK CITY — More than a dozen community gardens threatened with demolition to make room for affordable housing have been saved after the city designated them permanent greenspaces.
The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development listed 34 temporary greenspaces that will be permanently transferred to the Parks Department and supported by its GreenThumb Program, according to the Parks Department and 596 Acres, an advocacy group that has been fighting to save the spaces.
“Today is a win for New Yorkers who both cherish their local gardens and need more affordable housing for their neighborhoods,” NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said in a statement.
“By transferring these 34 temporary gardens, these spaces — where people of all walks of life come together to grow food, play, learn, exercise and relax — will be protected. This is a great example of the creative solutions we find to expand our stock of affordable housing while maintaining, caring for and growing our precious open space.”
The transfer designates the gardens as “parkland," according to 596 Acres, meaning city agencies must get approval from the state legislature to turn them into something other than open space.
A directory from 596 Acres and confirmed by HPD shows the changeover impacting three previously at-risk gardens in Manhattan, one in Queens and 11 in Brooklyn.
“All of these sites we helped people create and imagine a world where their neighborhood was nicer, and they had a space to create with their neighbors,” said Paula Segal, 596 Acres's executive director.
“This is the end result of our year of rallying. This is great."
Before the changeover, community members had control of their gardens on an interim basis.
Carlos Diaz, who helps manage Ten Neighbors Community Garden in Brownsville on the corner of Saratoga and Blake, said he was surprised by the decision but encouraged for the gardens’ future.
Ten Neighbors was one of the city-owned properties listed by HPD for development in January 2015, but which has been identified by 596 Acres as a newly-protected site.
“I didn’t think we had a chance, honestly,” Diaz said, adding that his group tried to protest against the city’s targeting of their garden.
“I thought, ‘What if we’re not here this year, we can just hope for the best.’ But the best came and we’re very happy. This is big.
“I feel like I have accomplished something and I’m grateful for the decision and for the opportunity to garden there.”
The protection allows Diaz to bring the community together and provide healthier options in a neighborhood lacking access to fresh vegetables, he added.
HPD and parks officials met with gardeners and local officials to evaluate each site for the potential of affordable housing, according to officials.
“As we build affordable housing and livable neighborhoods across the city, we must make some tough choices — including balancing the need to protect precious green space and the need to house New York families,” HPD Commissioner Vicki Been said in a statement.
“In trying to strike the right balance, HPD with the Parks Department crafted a plan that protects a tremendous number of gardens in perpetuity and provides support to gardeners, while ensuring that working families can afford to stay in their neighborhoods."
The city also considered garden membership and usage in their decision, as well as available green space in the community and the option of alternative locations for both gardens and housing, according to officials.
While 34 gardens were preserved, the city will build affordable apartments on nine other community gardens, two of which have no active gardeners, according to HPD.
The nine sites, which include Mandela Community Garden in Harlem and New Harvest Garden in Bed-Stuy, will create 800 new below-market-rate units that will have a 50% community preference, the agency said.
The seven with current gardens will be offered an alternative gardening space within a quarter-mile of their current spots, along with assistance through GreenThumb, officials added.
The city will continue to meet with gardeners, community boards, elected officials and local stakeholders to discuss the affordable housing developments and support for the gardens' relocations, as well as the possibility of incorporating green space in the new buildings, according to HPD.