There are some who see the future of community gardens as a matter to be resolved through the favor, or largess, of key government officials. They do not want a repeat of the rancor of the Guiliani era: which ended; like the Korean War: a stalemate, through a Bloomberg-Spitzer Agreement, set to expire this year.
And the gardeners were well treated by the speakers, at the recent (New York City Community Garden Coaliton) NYCCGC 2010 Save All Our Gardens Forum: held February 5 and 6 at the New School.
Politicians who can spoke like they really “get” this Green thing; such as; City Council President Christine Quinn; and “best of show” Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer; as well as, Council Parks & Recreation Chair Melissa Mark-Viverito (who’s been “with it” all along). All good Democrats: speaking, so well; in the presence of Keynote Speaker; Livia Marques from the USDA People’s Garden Initiative.
But these were all nominal allies of the gardening community: part of the chorus. So while, I don’t question their sincerity, on the issue: There was no Mayor, no Attorney General, no Senator (the one that sits on the Agriculture Committee); no Governor; and no Harlem elected official, did I see, or hear quoted.
There was the Parks& Recreation Department Chief; the Hon. Adrian Benepe: but the most endangered gardens, like mine are warehoused under HPD ( Housing & Presevation Department): not really within his official portfolio. Though I hope he’ll be good; if they take our garden, to give us some park land to farm.
For me; the well- intentioned NYCCG Coalition seems far too ready to accept a paradigm that cedes to temporary officials; a Right to permanently dispense public lands which slumlords abandoned; banks redlined; and other temporary office holders ignored: to the utter detriment of the City’s quality of life. That is; until the same good old boys’ sons were ready to come play their private game of Monopoly with our neighborhood streets.
As I recall, we have community gardens mainly; because some of the people, thus abandoned said; “we can live better than this!” And then set about to make it so. Count me as one; who believes that , the little people of today , must require our elected officials: in this supposed era of Change; to free more parcels of land: for common citizens to preserve in sustainable ways.
Parcels of land: that should be held in common; in perpetuity; as indivisible inheritances of the people; in their communities; and on their terms. This position proposes that, in each neighborhood; if a sufficient number of citizens apply; there be licensed, sunlit spaces, managed beyond the whims of the bureaucrats , the consultants, and their greedy speculator buddies. Places: where good people; in concert; and as free neighbors and equal, would be empowered to conserve a bit of the natural Earth for posterity.
Such spaces are needed for the nutrition deprived; the poor; and the landless to plant a bit of food or flower: and for those who have to live in the concrete cell box buildings (called projects for the lower incomes and Luxury condos for the uppers); to relax under summer Blue skies; surrounded by calming greenery; sweet forest scents; and maybe some nice Jazz..
I crave for such a space; where the children of richer households, and those of the poorer; where the fit and the feeble: the too young or too old could all come, in turn, to be humbled by the majesty of Nature: then reinvigorated by the power of liberated human cooperation. Community gardens; prove we can.
I’m with those, who insist that there should be unexploited spaces where we honor the traditions of the Native peoples: from whom all this land was stolen. So, we can pay respect to their ancient folklore: which informs us; correctly, that the Earth belongs to none of us, but rather; We all belong to the Earth.
We need places where we can recall, from our own Ancestors (white ad black): that even in the depths of indentured servitude or brutal slavery (within this City; not down South); they were given leave to plant a few carrots, greens and herbs. And how that bit of respite “to” Liberty and Self-reliance, kept embers of Hope for Freedom alive: in their Hearts: and, more important, in the collective consciousness of their children.
We need places to try and live; as Lincoln said,” … neither a slave nor a slave master”. Places; where every citizen is free to be a partner with his neighbor; and a partner with his acknowledged Creator: to green a little part of this Planet.
We need places where the educated and charitable; like the Students from the New School and the interns from Bain and Company, who came to our Harlem garden, can in open air peace; directly interact with residents of less fortunate areas and : be friends and mentors, and students. Because, only free, honest, mutual, and regular associations, effectively inculcate success strategies and better attitudes; between anxious minds.
Further; we need places that honor the toil of past community leaders: who, when their neighborhoods were abandoned; did not abandon Hope. Those, almost forgotten icons of citizen action, like our little Harlem garden’s Mrs. Carrie McCracken, or the neighborhood children and leaders from TRUCE who followed after her demise: to turn over rubble strewn lots: despite blight, crime, and violence: to plant flowers, and vegetables , and trees: refreshing our community life.
And yes; we need to honor those, who dared to challenge the presumptuous return of the temporary administrators; who wanted to hand out the lots at bargain sales; as soon the calculus of the Real Estate and Wall Street computed “ profit opportunity’ again. We don’t begrudge the “moneychangers”, their honest gain: we’ve lived high off their commerce to. We simply say that; they must be made to leave a substantial part, of this pie; to the rest of us.
For; some of us: how the balance of these lands are disposed , is a barometer, as to whether this City’s political leaders intends to provide fair and equal access to redevelopment resources and capital. Only; an equitable division of the rest of these lots: with common tenancy across ethnic and income spectrums; would suffice as a Just disposition. We want compensation for all the publically owned treasures; pillaged, without our consent.
These real properties; came into possession of the City of New York, due to spiteful criminal abandonments, redlining, and an odious policy of planned shrinkage (e.g. partial ethnic cleansing). They shouldn’t be tossed about as tokens, by current or future political office holders: slyly passing them to their buddies; through deft handoff maneuvers: like the Subway pickpocket teams do, to the victim rider’s wallet.
We, rather, seek preservation, of the better portion of these common lands; with an end to successions of political figures giving favored deals to the wealthy developers and private non-profit vote herders. We challenge, those claiming to favor economic freedom; to endow our neighborhoods with common green space. So that, free, neighborly commerce can incubate, innovate, and emerge as new and exciting indigenous businesses. Just as important: to guarantee us, Earth renewing relaxation venues, close to home.
We want spaces; where the Widow, can grow Pumpkins for pies to sell at her Church Bazaar or local Farmer’s market. And so that the 60 year old man, who doesn’t want to flip burgers to eke out a living; can grow his own fruit and vegetables, to make nutritious unsalted soups; to sell to fellow street vendors, neighborhood workers, and shut-ins at a fair price.
We want places, where children can learn the basic Principles of Good Business , by raising chickens for eggs or bees; instead of, from watching their older siblings sell drugs and worse. We want spaces where Seniors and Juniors; together can grow Cut Flowers: in new greenhouses to be sold to local Florists: instead of them, buying imports at higher cost. Can we not grow Tulips sustainably here? We demand space, where good Stewards can let fellow, though, homeless citizens glean a fresh tomato without shame. And then maybe that homeless will come and plant their own; the following season. Our churches are overwhelmed giving people food: We need to teach more people how to grow some of their food.
We will not really Green New York unless we create the pockets where seminal Green economies can develop at a grassroots level. And if the politicians demur and delay on this: then let us seek a referendum to mandate that it be done. That’s the pathway towards a needed increase in government “of the People, by the People, and for the People”.