NEW YORK, NY - It’s time we ask ourselves: “How can we have eminent domain for the Barclays Center and not have eminent domain for the constituents of the community?”
This Sunday, March 22 from 3 to 7pm, 596 Acres will present a pop-up exhibition on #eminentdomain4good at El Jardin del Paraiso, a sprawling Parks Department community garden in the Lower East Side at 5th Street between Ave. C & D in Manhattan.
Photographs from the garden’s founding and an audio documentary made last year by 596 Acres for What Do We Do With Our Land? for the New Museum's IDEAS CITY Festival, in collaboration with founding gardeners, will be on display. Stories from other gardens in New York City that are perfectly suited to become new Parks, including Imani I Community Garden in Weeksville, Maple Street Community Garden in Prospect Lefferts and Roger That! Garden in Crown Heights, will also be shared, along with opportunities to support gardeners’ campaigns to preserve them through #eminentdomain4good.
Since at least 1807, eminent domain has been used to create New York’s parks and open spaces. El Jardin del Paraiso is among Prospect Park, Central Park, Astor Place and over 350 other condemnations for the creation or preservation of parks and open spaces that have been recorded in New York’s county courts. As El Jardin del Paraiso’s story shows, eminent domain can facilitate the preservation of value that residents create by transforming vacant lots into community spaces.
L: Making Paraiso, roughly 1981. Courtesy of Howard Brandstein. R: An excerpt from Lower East Side Gardeners’ proposal to preserve open space, presented to Community Board 3 in 1982. Lower East Side Gardeners served a constituency of over 200 people from different Lower East Side gardens. Courtesy of Howard Brandstein.
El Jardin del Paraiso, a meadow-like green space in the dense Loisaida (Alphabet City), was created by local residents in 1981 out of series of empty lots, some owned by the City and some owned by private entities. Homesteaders, gardeners, artists, religious leaders, the Junior League, and the principal of P.S. 15, worked together to advocate for the expansion and preservation of the garden as a permanent park. The group convinced the City that El Jardin was perfectly situated to become a new park for the Lower East Side in a part of the neighborhood badly served by the existing green spaces. During the 1990s, the City condemned three lots that it did not then own that divided the space using eminent domain, making the park whole.
Imani I Community Garden in Weeksville, Brooklyn has similar beginnings: neighbors got together to provide themselves with the services they needed – in this case, with open green space and fresh food – in a neighborhood full of holes. Now, over 40 years since its founding, eminent domain may be the only way to save this garden from being permanently ravaged by the City’s illegal sale of tax debt, that should have never been owed in the first place, to private speculators. It's a tough one to explain to the generations of gardeners who have been caring for the space for decades since it was created by Parishioners of Our Lady of Charity, the first black Catholic congregation in the diocese, in 1974. To keep the garden whole, the City or State government can buy the property from the private owner and turn it over to the NYC Parks Department GreenThumb program for continued management by volunteers.
Maple Street Community Gardeners organize in Fall 2015. Photos by Paula Z. Segal (R) and courtesy CUNY Law School/Public Square Magazine (L).
Maple Street Community Garden, in Brooklyn’s Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, has recently become a poster-child for the kind of trickery and fraud that accompanies real estate booms. The story of its creation is familiar: neighbors got fed up with the vacant lot on their block and, with no accountable owner in site, they began to clear out the impressive garbage that had collected in the summer of 2013. They built raised beds and planted flowers and vegetables. In 2015, State Senator Jesse Hamilton and Assembly Member Diana Richardson introduced bills in the NYS Senate and in the Assembly to preserve the Maple Street Community Garden through eminent domain. The exhibition will provide an opportunity for attendees to support the bills and to petition the Mayor, City Council and NYC Parks directly.
Roger That garden, Summer 2015. Photo courtesy Roger That! Garden.
Roger That! Garden in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is another garden in jeopardy that can be preserved through #eminentdomain4good. Assembly Member Richardson and Senator Velmanette Montgomery have also introduced bills aimed at protecting the Roger That! Garden as parkland.
At the event this Sunday, visitors will listen to the histories, see the photos, send letters, and find out more about 596 Acres’ community land access advocacy program. This exhibition is part of El Jardin del Paraiso’s Mudball Ball. If we can use eminent domain for El Jardin del Paraiso under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, we can certainly continue to use it for the little bits of green paradise that neighbors have created in their neighborhoods in Brooklyn today.
Further Reading & Listening
EL JARDIN DEL PARAISO
El Jardin del Paraiso from the audio documentary What Do We Do With Our Land? -- annotating community land stewardship on the Lower East Side for the New Museum IDEAS CITY Festival: https://soundcloud.com/596-acres/ideas-city-el-jardin-del-paraiso
MAPLE STREET COMMUNITY GARDEN
On 596 Acres’ organizing map, Living Lots NYC:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3050300072/
“How a Gentrification Scam Threatens New York’s Community Gardens” by DW Gibson, The Nation, Oct. 20, 2015: http://www.thenation.com/article/how-a-gentrification-scam-threatens-new-yorks-community-gardens/
“Pol Proposes State Seizure Of Disputed Brooklyn Community Garden” by Nathan Tempey. Gothamist, Oct. 25, 2015:http://gothamist.com/2015/10/25/maple_street_garden_eminent_domain.php
“There Goes the Neighborhood, Episode 6: Trickery Fraud and Deception” by The Nation, WNYC Studios, and Kai Wright. The Nation, April 13, 2016:http://www.thenation.com/article/there-goes-the-neighborhood-episode-6-trickery-fraud-and-deception/
Petition for New York City Council Member Mathieu Eugene: Get New York City to preserve Maple Street Community Gardenhttps://www.change.org/p/mathieu-eugene-get-new-york-city-to-preserve-maple-street-community-garden?recruiter=1018172&utm_campaign=signature_receipt_fb_dialog&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition
New York State Assembly Bill A8569 (2015-2016 Legislative Session):https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a8569/
New York State Senate Bill S6073 (2015-2016 Legislative Session):https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s6073
ROGER THAT! COMMUNITY GARDEN
On 596 Acres’ organizing map, Living Lots NYC:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3012330001/
“3 Beloved Brooklyn Community Gardens Win Important Victories” by Nathan Tempey. Gothamist, Nov. 18, 2016:http://gothamist.com/2015/11/18/community_gardens_ftw.php
New York State Assembly Bill A8583 (2015-2016 Legislative Session):https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a8583
New York State Senate Bill S6093 (2015-2016 Legislative Session):https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s6093
IMANI I COMMUNITY GARDEN
On 596 Acres’ organizing map, Living Lots NYC:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/58665/
“CityViews: Stop the Tax-Lien Sales That Will Destroy Community Gardens” by Paula Segal. CityLimits, May 10, 2016:http://citylimits.org/2016/05/10/cityviews-stop-the-tax-lien-sale-that-will-destroy-a-community-garden/
Mara Kravitz, Executive Assistant, email@example.com, 718-316-6092 ext. 3