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From the Ground Up: A Petition to Protect New York City’s Community Gardens

By protecting community gardens through CEA designation, New York City can help to ensure that the gardens continue to strengthen and transform neighborhoods for decades to come.

From the Ground Up: A Petition to Protect New York City’s Community Gardens.

In November 2020, Earthjustice and the New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC), along with 52 additional organizations, submitted From the Ground Up: A Petition to Protect New York City’s Community Gardens to New York City government agencies. The petition requests that the agencies protect community gardens by designating gardens on City-owned land as Critical Environmental Areas (CEAs), and it expressly identifies 40 gardens that meet the criteria for CEA designation.

On June 14, 2022, together with 69 organizations, we submitted a supplemental petition to New York City government agencies. From the Ground Up II: A Supplemental Petition to Protect New York City’s Community Gardens renews the requests in the original petition, and it identifies additional community gardens that merit CEA designation.

In addition to petitioning New York City agencies to designate community gardens as CEAs, Earthjustice, NYCCGC, and additional partners have encouraged the New York State Community Gardens Task Force to pursue CEA designation for gardens. In February 2023, the task force issued a report recognizing the need to increase protections for community gardens and recommending that decisionmakers designate community gardens statewide as CEAs. Protecting community gardens through CEA designation will help ensure that community gardens continue to strengthen and transform communities for decades to come.


Community gardens are greenspaces designed and operated by New York City residents. With community members in charge, the gardens are uniquely adaptable and responsive to neighborhood needs. For instance, in neighborhoods with little access to fresh food, community gardens provide fruits and vegetables, as well as opportunities for community members to share information about healthful cooking. As the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated longstanding racial and economic disparities across New York City, community gardeners mobilized to support their neighbors by increasing production and distribution of fresh produce, which helps to keep immune systems strong.

In neighborhoods with few public parks, community gardens offer open space, greenery, and the joy and solace of community-cultivated natural settings. Indeed, updated data show that most community gardens are located in neighborhoods with below-average access to public parks. Thus, community gardens play an essential role in increasing open space equity.

Many community gardens also foster civic engagement by providing space to organize for social justice and offering educational programming. In addition, community gardens help New Yorkers strengthen their connections to their cultural heritage by allowing them to plant traditional foods, engage in traditional agricultural practices, and gather in shared spaces.

Community gardens also contribute significantly to New York City’s sustainability efforts, providing ecosystem services such as flood mitigation, air filtration, heat reduction, and vital habitat for pollinators.

For decades, generations of New Yorkers have built and maintained community gardens, nurturing the benefits and values that gardens continue to provide today. With few legal protections, however, community gardens remain vulnerable to outside threats, such as development or construction on or near the gardens.

Critical Environmental Area Designation

CEA designation would provide much-needed legal protections for community gardens. Under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), government agencies can designate specific areas as CEAs if they exhibit just one of the following characteristics:

  1. a benefit to human health;
  2. a natural setting;
  3. agricultural, social, cultural, historic, recreational, or educational values; or
  4. ecological or hydrological values that may be negatively affected by any change.

As shown through scientific research and borne out by gardeners’ own stories, community gardens satisfy all of these criteria.

Once an area achieves CEA status, agencies must evaluate the potential impact of certain actions — such as construction or development — on that area. An action that will impair the protected characteristics of a CEA is more likely to require an Environmental Impact Statement under SEQRA, meaning that an agency would create a written analysis of the action’s potential adverse effects, and members of the public would have an opportunity to weigh in by providing written comments or testifying at a public hearing. CEA designation would ensure that community gardens are at the forefront of environmental review, alerting community members to potential threats to these gardens before it is too late.

Legal Action

To achieve heightened legal protection for community gardens through CEA designation, Petitioners make the following requests:

  1. Within six months following the submission of the Supplement, or by December 14, 2022, the Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Department of Education, and Department of Transportation designate fifty specific community gardens located within their respective jurisdictions as Critical Environmental Areas.
  2. Within twelve months following the submission of the Supplement, or by June 14, 2023, the Department of Parks and Recreation’s GreenThumb Program conduct an assessment of all community gardens on City-owned land and confirm, in consultation with community gardeners, that these gardens meet the regulatory criteria for CEA designation; and
  3. Within twelve months following the submission of the Supplement, or by June 14, 2023, City agencies designate as CEAs all City-owned gardens within their respective jurisdictions that meet the regulatory criteria for CEA designation, based on GreenThumb’s assessment.


Read the Petition:




Executive Summary


Factual Background

  1. Beginnings of the Community Garden Movement
  2. Threats to Community Gardens and the 2002 Agreement
  3. New York City’s Community Gardens Today
  4. Community Gardens as Critical Contributors to the City’s Planning, Waste Management, and Sustainability Goals
  5. Continuing Threats to and Growing Protections for New York City’s Community Gardens

Legal Framework

Requested Actions


  1. Community Gardens Benefit Human Health
  2. Community Gardens Provide Natural Settings
  3. Community Gardens Provide Agricultural, Social, Cultural, Historic, Recreational, and Educational Values
  4. Community Gardens Exhibit Inherent Ecological and Hydrological Sensitivity to Change



Appendix: Maps


Read the Supplemental Petition

2020 Team:

  • Ashley Gregor
  • Sorangel Liriano
  • Işıl Akgül
  • Alexis Andiman
  • Erica Asinas
  • Kara Goad
  • Nydia Gutiérrez
  • Raymond Figueroa, Jr.
  • Peter Lehner
  • Samuel S. T. Pressman

2022 Team:

  • Kara Goad
  • Sorangel Liriano
  • Alexis Andiman
  • Matt Ellis-Ramirez
  • Mustafa Saifuddin
  • Raymond Figueroa, Jr.
  • Nydia Gutierrez
  • Peter Lehner



Meet Community Gardeners of New York City

Community gardeners from The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem, and Lower Manhattan share what community gardens mean to them.

Gardens Rising Feasibility Study

The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and NYCCGC formed a community-based sustainability and green infrastructure initiative to reduce flooding and provide ecological services on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Money Does Grow on Trees

Samuel S. T. Pressman and Raymond Figueroa, Jr. of the Pratt Institute Graduate Center For Planning & The Environment conducted an ecosystem services valuation of twenty-one community gardens in New York City and found that these gardens divert approximately $1,283,116 per year from the City’s overall energy and built infrastructure expenses.

Media Inquiries

Nydia Gutiérrez Communications Strategist, Earthjustice