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Sept. 12, 2022

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

Overview

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.

Trellises and raised garden beds filled with kale, chard, and greens in the Rockaway Youth Task Force Urban Farm in Queens.
Jeenah Moon for Earthjustice
In addition to growing kale, chard, and other greens, community gardeners at Rockaway Youth Task Force Urban Farm in Queens serve as champions of social change in their community by helping with voter registration and organizing town halls on important issues, such as the health risks of vaping.

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.

Graph showing that on average, residents in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens have access to 14 park acres per thousand residents.
Graph showing that on average, residents in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens have access to 14 park acres per thousand residents.

The 403 gardens to the left of the dashed line are in neighborhoods with below-average access to park acres.

100

80

Number of Gardens

60

40

20

0

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

Community District Level Park Acres Per Thousand Residents

Mustafa Saifuddin / Earthjustice

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.

Pleasant Village Community Garden in Harlem.
Jeenah Moon for Earthjustice
Community gardeners have fought for years to protect Pleasant Village Community Garden in Harlem from development.

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:

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

Read the Supplemental Petition:

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

Contributors

Petitioners

Introduction

Requested Actions

Community Garden Profiles

Resources

Appendix

Endnotes

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
At Harlem Grown, students learn to grow healthful foods by helping to plant, water, and harvest fruits and vegetables.
Sorangel Liriano / Earthjustice
At Harlem Grown, students learn to grow healthful foods by helping to plant, water, and harvest fruits and vegetables.

How You Can Support New York City’s Community Gardens

Show your support by signing on to the Petition:

Resources

Community gardeners of New York City.

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.

Cover of the Gardens Rising Feasibility Study.

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.

Cover of the Money Does Grow on Trees.

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
Liz Christy Community Garden in Manhattan.
Jeenah Moon for Earthjustice
New York City’s first officially recognized community garden, the Liz Christy Community Garden in Manhattan, now is included on the National Registry of Historic Places, as “a significant reminder of the vibrant community that grew out of the economically challenged and blighted East Village in the 1970s.”
From the Ground Up