August 2, 2010
Cities need gardens
This is so frightening, and sad. (Crusade to Protect Public Gardens) A 2002 law that saved hundreds of New York City community gardens from sale to developers is set to expire in September, and while the Department of Parks and Recreation says they have no specific plans to sell off or develop any of the gardens, they’re losing much of their legal protection from such destruction.
The community gardens of New York City are what keep this place sane and livable. My 3rd floor apartment overlooks one, and in the summertime I love the peace and solitude of sitting outside perched on my fire escape, with a drink and a book, looking out over the garden where our neighbors grow roses, sunflowers, peas, and tomatoes. They have a rainwater collection system whereby run-off from a bordering apartment building’s storm gutters is saved to water the garden instead of going to waste. Dogs lounge in the shade. Neighborhood cats stalk rats and pigeons. Fireflies turn it into a dark green twilight fairyland in June. Even though we live one block from Central Park, it’s not a substitute for the little pocket of quiet and privacy tucked between the apartment buildings. A few months ago during a recurrence of our leaking bathroom ceiling horrors, our building management even offered to let us move into a vacant apartment one floor up in our same building. We said no. Only because the new apartment faced the street, not the garden.
Looking or stepping into the garden in an unfamiliar neighborhood as I go about my often-hectic freelance work all over the city is a powerful glimpse into the personality of the neighborhood, and also into how the people there value their environment, and the protection of peace and solitude and nature.
The profusion of gardens and greenspaces here is, ironically, one of the reasons I finally realized this past year that I can never move back to Kansas City. There are parks–large, beautiful ones–but they’re isolated from the places where people actually live. Lots of the suburban areas are okay, but in the downtown areas where I could reasonably live, work and shop without having to own a car, there are just no trees, no green space. While in many other respects, the city is becoming much more of a place that I might like to live, with an exploding theater and arts community and a lot of great redevelopment. But over Christmas last year I visited my brother’s downtown loft, and looking out over the city, I couldn’t see a single tree, or square of green space, for blocks and blocks. I’d been trying to figure out why I felt so depressed driving through downtown looking at the sidewalks and historic buildings, even though the neighborhood looked vibrant and well-kept. And it wasn’t just that it was winter; there was really almost no vegetation.
So thanks to the Times for bringing this to our attention, and I hope plenty of people will write the mayor and city council to remind them of the value of our community gardens, which are more priceless to the character of the city than any development they could possibly put in those spaces instead. I hope that a new plan can be agreed to which would give the gardens secure, long-term protection.