Mulching with Meaning

We are not the only ones fighting for some environmental space in San Francisco.  In NYC, the battles rage on as development starts to pick up and all those once empty lots are now hot spaces to erect housing, commercial ventures and more, but not gardens.  In the lands of plenty, the lands are still quite few, and quite reserved for the proverbial developer to wave their magic wand over.  The group trying to save a small piece of land in NYC has many similarities to the plight of our very own Hayes Valley Farm.

Hayes Valley Frm has occupied two plots of land slated for development until that development takes place.  Now, that one plot is moving forward, the city wants to use the other plot to store gear and kick out HVF for good.  The NYC group did not have a farm on the undeveloped land.  The plot, itself, is too small to build housing and was sighted to be an add-on to adjacent lots being developed.  When word got out, that this small parcel, not suitable for housing, was being taken over anyway, people got mad.  They got together and used their tools for sewing seeds to sew a mini-revolution-a garden.

Here’s to you New Yorkers who believe “obedience is not always the right thing to do”.  If growing a garden is wrong, who wants to be right?  Save public lands for environmental work like urban agriculture, recycling and habitat restoration.

 

 

 

Trespassing to Plant Flowers, and a Flag

By
Published: August 21, 2012
The gardeners entered the empty lot, pushing in the bottom of a metal gate on the Lower East Side, ducking under it and dragging their tools behind them.

Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

Community members seeking to preserve green space entered this Lower East Side lot on Sunday to replace trash with a garden.

John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times

Laura Williams, a gardener, speaking with a passer-by. A developer proposes building on the lot and two adjoining parcels.

There were rakes, shovels, a pitchfork — and a “No Trespassing” sign that was ignored by all. The goal, they said, was to turn the city-owned lot into a sanctioned community garden, and to somehow kill a proposal that seeks to merge the empty lot, on Stanton Street near Attorney Street, with two others, forming an L-shaped development parcel of about 4,000 square feet.

Soon about a dozen people were cleaning the lot, picking up pieces of lumber and piling them next to an ivy-covered brick wall. Although the visit flouted city rules, the group made little attempt to be covert: they invited passers-by to sign a petition supporting their efforts.

In some ways, the actions on Sunday harked back to an earlier era, when territorial battles on the Lower East Side involved lawsuits filed to prevent the sale of gardens to developers and barricades erected around city-owned plots by gardeners hoping to stave off takeover attempts. Symbolic annexation of that sort was used to create dozens of gardens in the 1970s and 1980s, when empty lots abounded and development on the Lower East Side seemed permanently stalled.

These days, though, with developers eager to build, the gardeners acknowledged that the odds of prevailing may not be in their favor. But Claire Costello, 38, said she and others had decided to organize the unsanctioned cleanup to promote the idea of a permanent garden.

“Obedience is not always the right thing to do,” she said, as people dug up bricks from the soil and planted flowers, including a leadwort with blue petals and a black-eyed Susan.

While the part of the lot abutting Stanton Street was strewed with debris, a 70-foot poplar, a wild rose bush and other flora grew in the rear of the lot and on parts of two adjoining lots, where some of the participants said that they had been gardening since the 1990s.

The city-owned lot, which runs south from Stanton Street, is 1,200 square feet and adjoins two perpendicular lots of 1,400 square feet, both running west from Attorney Street. One is owned by the city and the other by a private company, 139 Attorney Street L.L.C.

None of the lots are big enough to accommodate a building that would likely generate much revenue, said John Donahue, 53, who began gardening on parts of the lots about 15 years ago. He added that he saw the attempt to combine all three lots as a form of overreaching to “maximize profits” that would also remove a cherished patch of greenery.

Tending the garden, he said, “makes living in New York a lot more bearable, because we have this little bit of ground that we can take care of.”

During a meeting of Community Board 3 in April, architects for a developer identified as 137 Attorney Street L.L.C. presented plans for a five-story building of 14 apartments to be constructed on the lots.  The board approved the concept of combining the lots pending further reports and with the understanding that at least three apartments would be designated as affordable housing.

An official from the city Housing Preservation and Development Department said that a developer had expressed interest in combining the lots but had not submitted a formal proposal to do so.

Lawyers at a firm that was identified on papers submitted to the community board as representing the developer did not respond to a request for comment.

Among those who signed the petition on Sunday were some who began living nearby in the 1970s, like Santiago Baez, 54, as well as newer arrivals, like Georgina Koren, 28.

“It has been a wasted space,” Ms. Koren said. “It would be great to have a bit more green.”