Watching their garden go: City wants to bulldoze community plots for discount digs

Watching their garden go: City wants to bulldoze community plots for discount digs
Photo by Jason Speakman

The city’s push to build below-market rate housing could have Brooklyn community gardens pushing up daisies.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development added 10 borough gardens to the list of 181 city lots it wants to open up for development as so-called “affordable” housing. One gardener who, with neighbors, convinced the city last year to allow planting in a Bushwick lot, said discounted apartments are needed, but that Mayor DeBlasio’s housing goals can be achieved by protecting rent-stabilized tenants and developing lots that are disused, not ones being tilled by green thumbs.

“The thought of the garden being paved over is just so sad,” said Keri Kroboth, a founder of El Garden on Jefferson Street, between Central and Evergreen avenues in Bushwick. “After all of the energy that went into this garden, for it to be cut short so soon, people are devastated about it.”

If the city approves a developer’s pitch for a lot, the company gets the green light to tear up the garden and commence construction. More than 750 city-owned lots did not make the list.

The gardeners knew their stay was touch-and-go, subject to the whims of city officials, but advocates say that there is no need to pull up their planting when other options are available, and that doing so shows residents the city doesn’t value green space, or the hardworking locals who create it.

“The history of community gardens in New York City is a history of vacant lots that people imagined as something else and then created,” said Paula Segal, head of the garden-activist organization 596 Acres, which pushes to give everyday people access to vacant lots in their neighborhoods. “At least 550 of them were gardens first and were protected only after neighbors proved that their pilot projects were working.”

A gardener from another threatened veggie patch in Bedford-Stuyvesant said closing it would cut neighbors off from a source of nourishment — for mind and body.

“This garden is bringing people together and giving people access to fresh fruit and vegetables,” said Kyiesha Kelly, one of the organizers of the Patchen Community Square. “A lot of the kids that live in the neighborhood benefit from it because it is a teaching tool.”

The Patchen Avenue garden came together last year, and when the fruits and veggies were ready to be picked, gardeners handed them out to people in the neighborhood.

“We will give food out to anyone who stops by and is interested,” Kelly said.

The city said it has no timeline on when developers will start building, so the gardeners have some breathing room. The problem is, they don’t know how much, and housing officials have made it clear what they care more about.

“While community gardens add great value to our city, our mission as an agency is to address the affordable housing crisis that affects tens of thousands of hardworking New York families, and to revitalize and strengthen communities through the development of affordable housing – that is the primary use of our pipeline of vacant land and available resources,” said housing department spokesman Eric Bederman.

Mayor DeBlasio is pushing a plan to “build or preserve” 200,000 units of below-market-rate housing in the next decade by rezoning to encourage density and offering tax breaks and funding for projects that include below-market apartments. In emphasizing speed in construction, DeBlasio has foregone trying to make most of the new apartments permanently below-market.

Gardeners from El Garden have launched an online petition to save their plots. The petition has garnered 327 backers so far.

The full list of gardens in the city’s sights is as follows:

Patchen Community Square, Patchen Avenue at Putnam Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant

462 Halsey Community Garden on Halsey Street between Ralph and Howard avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant

Tranquility Farm, Willoughby Avenue at Throop Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant

New Harvest Community Garden, Vernon Avenue between Marcy and Tompkins avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant

EL Garden, Jefferson Avenue between Central and Evergreen avenues in Bushwick

Isabahliah Ladies of Elegance, Saratoga Avenue between Sutter and Blake avenues in Brownsville

Brownsville Student Farm, Rockaway Avenue between Sutter and Pitkin avenues in Brownsville

Powell Street Community Garden, Livonia Avenue at Powell Street in Brownsville

Imani Garden, Pacific Street between Schenectady and Utica avenues in Crown Heights

La Casita Verde, Bedford Avenue at Division Avenue in Williamsburg

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurf‌[email protected]‌ngloc‌al.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitt‌er.com/‌Danie‌lleFu‌rfaro.
Getting their hands dirty: Elementary school teacher Tony Canty, left, and some of his students learn how to plant veggies at El Garden with help from gardener Neha Chheda, second from right.
El Garden