The Bureaucrats' Dance Or, the City Tries to Justify its Garden Policy  with Commentary by Jayne Doe
 
Why the City Wants to Auction Off 119 Community Gardens in May 1999.

LETTER FROM HIGH-LEVEL GIULIANI STAFFER TO THE STEWARD OF A BROOKLYN COMMUNITY GARDEN

Dear Father Crispo:

    Thank you for writing to express your support for community gardens in New York City. Mayor Giuliani has long been a strong supporter of public open space and parks. In fact during the Mayor's term, he has increased the City's parkland by 1,540 acres.

    Community gardens are city-owned vacant lots that were transferred temporarily to the Department of Parks and Recreation in 1978 and then to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development in 1998. The Department of Parks and Recreation granted temporary license agreements to community groups, who were permitted to use the lots as gardens with the understanding that the land would be reclaimed by the City for housing and economic development at a later date.  Communities cultivating the gardens have always been aware that the license agreements were never intended to be permanent.

    Many of these gardens are located in communities that have a great need for increased low and middle-income housing. ["Therefore, rather than addressing any of these communities' needs, we want to deliver publicly owned community institutions into the hands of real-estate speculators."] Therefore, the Mayor's decision to auction a number of community gardens reflects the City's original intent to use these vacant lots [that just happen to contain gardens] for housing and economic development [translation: parking lots, gas stations, things that are so important to developing strong neighborhoods] and balance the competing interests of the needs of the city.

    With regards to Our Lady of Peace/Gil Hodges Memorial Garden, I have visited the garden myself and spoken at great length to people in the community. Based on this review, the Mayor has decided the property is best used as a meeting and greeting place for seniors, children and members of the community. Subsequently, the garden has been removed from the May auction list.

    Thank you again for writing to share your concerns.

Sincerely, Jake Menges

Director of Intergovernmental Affairs

Chief of Staff

Office of the Deputy Mayor for Operations
 


Why the City Transferred All the Community Gardens into the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (Spring 1998).

THE INITIAL VERSION

MEMORANDUM

DATE: April 24, 1998

TO: City Land Committee Members [the CLC is an appointed body within City government with jurisdiction over inter-agency land transfers]

FROM: Mary A. Bolton, Department of Housing Preservation and Development [the mid-level housing bureaucrat who manages HPD's effort to develop on

community garden sites]

RE: CLC Hold and Transfer of Property

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development requests emergency CLC holds and transfer of the 741 lots on the attached list ["emergency?"]. Upon transfer of jurisdiction and management the license agreement between DCAS and Parks dated January 8, 1996 [governing the Green Thumb garden program] is to be terminated.
 


AFTER THE MEMORANDUM ABOVE WAS LEAKED
 
May 3, 1998
STATEMENT FROM THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING PRESERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT REGARDING THE GREENTHUMB GARDENS
    In an effort to better coordinate the City's use of vacant properties [translation: gardens], Greenthumb Gardens will now operate as part of HPD's blueprint for sustainable and vibrant neighborhoods. Mayor Giuliani recognizes the need for balanced neighborhoods which include both open space and affordable housing. [However, he has no concrete plans for providing either.] Greenthumb Gardens are a creative but temporary use of vacant property. Greenthumb Gardens, when converted are used to build low- to moderate-income housing. At the same time, HPD is committed to the belief that affordable housing is a very tangible sign of hope for many of this City's low-, moderate- and middle-income families [untranslatable into English]. We must acknowledge that the construction of affordable housing is an integral part of the process [and this paragraph no longer refers to anything.].

    HPD has no intention of changing the premise from which Greenthumb Gardens operate [that premise being that they will be sold at auction]. These gardens will remain, as always, an appropriate yet temporary use of City-owned property. Current leases remain in effect [subsequently, the City simply let them expire and then refused to renew them]. The result of this transfer will be a higher level of coordination between HPD and the Gardens leading to a more effective communication regarding the permanent uses of these sites [e.g.,their development as real-estate].



May 7, 1998
 

TESTIMONY OF HECTOR BATISTA, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER AND CHIEF OF STAFF FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING PRESERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT, BEFORE A CITY BUDGET HEARING
 

    I would now like to take a few moments to talk about the transfer of Greenthumb Gardens from Parks to HPD. First of all, I would like to clarify for you today what this transfer means for the program: It is not a plan to terminate Greenthumb Garden leases; it is not a plan to accelerate development on Greenthumb Garden sites; and it is not a plan to accelerate the sale of these sites for the development of housing, particularly luxury housing, as some have suggested [getting defensive?].
 

    Instead, the Greenthumb program will basically stay the same.  The Parks Department will retain its staff to continue addressing the training and support needs of Greenthumb Gardens; In addition, Parks has identified 36 Greenthumb Gardens which can become permanent if supported by local community boards.