Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Plowed Under: A Tree No Longer Grows in Harlem New York Has Begun Selling off Some of Its Community Gardens in Whatthe Mayor Says Is an Effort to Meet Increased Housing Needs

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Plowed Under: A Tree No Longer Grows in Harlem New York Has Begun Selling off Some of Its Community Gardens in Whatthe Mayor Says Is an Effort to Meet Increased Housing Needs

Article excerpt

As the bulldozer pulled up in front of Harlem's Public School 76, some of the children noticed the rumble.

"Mr. Goodridge, there's a bulldozer in the garden," one of the seven-year-olds told his teacher.

"A bulldozer?" When Tom Goodridge looked outside, he saw the bulldozer had crashed through the wood-framed wire fence, laying waste to the plant beds and trees he and his students had cultivated over the years. He dashed out the door. "Stop! What are you doing?" he asked the hard-hatted foreman. "This is city land!" the man retorted as he turned his back and resumed demolition. This scene from last November sent shivers through community gardeners in New York and other cities across the nation. For decades, many urban communities have cleaned up abandoned, garbage- filled lots and planted gardens - often with their cities' encouragement - in an effort to improve their neighborhoods. As the economy thrives, however, these city-owned lots are now prime targets for development. "Everyone is terrified by the New York situation," says Sally McCabe of the American Community Gardening Association in Philadelphia. "It's waking us up - making us realize we need to court our governments, make them realize what we're doing and why it's so important for our communities." So far, such tactics haven't worked in New York. "This is a free- market economy," said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, responding to protests in January. "Welcome to the era after communism." So far, 44 gardens have been bulldozed, according to the New York City Gardening Association, a private, non-profit group. The city plans to auction 112 more in May, as part of an effort to sell some of its 11,000 vacant lots. It contends the land is needed to build affordable housing. But many community activists find it ironic that the work neighbors did to improve their communities and increase the value of the land is one reason the gardens are threatened. The Harlem school's garden - named the Garden of Love by the students and built in 1990 with help from the local Ethiopian Coptic Church - was one of approximately 700 gardens on city-owned lots. Like others, it received funds from the city's "Green Thumb" program, which provides permits, water, and fencing for communities to clear neighborhood eyesores. "It was just a dangerous, nasty spot full of construction debris and old refrigerators, tires - a crack house was behind it," says Goodridge. …

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