NEW YORK CITY COMMUNITY GARDENS CASE STUDY
 

    Community gardens flourish in all of New York Cityís five boroughs. These gardens, many of them begun in the late 60ís and early 70ís, are the product of grass-roots activism. Residents who are unwilling to wait for the city to come in and clean up abandoned lots, have moved in themselves and created cloistered, vernal retreats in the middle of some of New Yorkís worst neighborhoods.

    However, under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the city finally decided to come and do something with these lots. The city begun the process of bulldozing many gardens and auctioning off the land to developers. Giuliani argued that the city needed the lots for additional low-income housing, and that while the destruction of the gardens would be be distressing, in the long run area residents would benefit.

    The residents, however, were not comfortable with waiting for the long run, and pulled together a strong, grassroots movement, 1960ís style. They discussed civil disobedience, held sit-inís in front of City Hall, and chanted "No Gardens, No Peas!" at passersby.

    They also brought several lawsuits. The first major suits was filed in state court, by the Coalition for the Preservation of Gardens. The Coalition sued Mayor Giuliani to obtain an injunction preventing the destruction of the gardens. See In the Matter of New York City Coalition for the Preservation of Gardens v. Giuliani, 670 N.Y.S.2d 654 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 19970. The Coalition never made it to trial, however, as their claims were dismissed. The court held that the procedure by which the Mayor and City Council had decided to reclaim the garden land and develop it for low-income housing was both lawful and rational.

    The rallies continued, but the city moved forward with plans to auction off 112 garden lots to developers on May 13, 1999. Finally, on May 12, as if this were a show-stopping Broadway production, Bette Midler took the stage and, in cooperation with the Trust For Public Land, purchased all 112 of the lots from the city, for a combined total of $4.3 million.

    However, many of the field troops in the fight to save the gardens were distressed by Midlerís show stealing move. They contended that the high-profile purchase of 112 gardens left hundreds of others in greater peril.

    The New York Environmental Justice Alliance is one of the groups still struggling to save the remaining gardens. In Federal Court, the Alliance sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the bulldozing of several, threatened gardens. See New York City Environmental Justice Alliance v. Giuliani, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8437 (S.D.N.Y. June 4, 1999). However, while the petitioners were able to show that they would suffer irreparable harm, they were unable to convince the court that they would be likely to succeed on the merits of their environmental justice claims. As a result, their motion for preliminary injunction was denied. And Mayor Giuliani, Bette Midlerís auction dance partner, is continuing with plans to redevelop the remaining garden lots.

    This case study is about a minority population struggling both to keep an unwanted development out and to protect what it already has Ė productive, community gardens. The most entertaining files in this case study are the newspaper articles, but the published legal opinions, especially the New York Supreme Court opinion, do a great job of describing the details of the legal issues. As the legal battles are ongoing, a few phone calls to New York would be the best way to stay current on these questions.