Cher famously said, “If grass can grow through cement, love can find you every time,” but Brooklyn’s community gardens — potted with blood, sweat, and tears — are reaping thorns from Mayor DeBlasio, who plans to uproot some of them for below-market-rate homes he can plant on the thousands of zombie lots and Franken-buildings blistering the cityscape.
Hizzoner clearly values the humble community garden or else he would not have spared most of the 43 sanctuaries on city-owned land that grow food, germinate unity, and serve as outdoor classrooms. But his plan to raze four borough beauties and five more in Harlem to build 800 new low- and moderate-income units is the pits.
Manhattan alone has enough abandoned apartments and vacant lots to house all the homeless people in the city, claims Picture the Homeless, which dug up 2,228 properties that could be turned into 24,000 residential units, if the mayor tilled the legislative and policy soil.
The long struggle for community garden legitimacy began in the early 1970s, when a fiscal crisis and a new top-down management style at City Hall heralded a new era of neighborhood input and outreach. Eco buffs called the Green Guerillas — their slogan remains “It’s your city. Dig it” — began lobbing “seed bombs” packed with fertilizer, buds, and water over fences around abandoned lots on the Lower East Side to grow life on dead land. Neighbors responded heartily and the community garden revolution took off. Today, all five boroughs bloom with more than 600 verdant oases nurtured by ordinary people on an extraordinary mission.
Mayor Ed Koch, who leased land to local green thumbs for a buck and helped expand the community garden movement, once remarked of the productive public plots, “some of them have become absolutely necessary and add back to the value of a whole neighborhood.”
Their continued success is simple, says Yonnette Fleming, an urban food justice farmer behind the Hattie Carthan Community Food Project in Bedford-Stuyvesant, composed of a garden, two farmer’s markets, and a farm which dodged a date with the wrecking ball.
“Community gardens help communities grow,” she says.
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