NOV. 18, 2020
On November 18, the New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC), Earthjustice, and 52 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 heightened legal protections for New York City’s community gardens through designation as Critical Environmental Areas (CEAs).On November 18, the New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC), Earthjustice, and 52 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 heightened legal protections for New York City’s community gardens through designation as Critical Environmental Areas (CEAs).
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.JEENAH MOON FOR EARTHJUSTICEIn 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. 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:
- a benefit to human health;
- a natural setting;
- agricultural, social, cultural, historic, recreational, or educational values; or
- 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.JEENAH MOON FOR EARTHJUSTICECommunity gardeners have fought for years to protect Pleasant Village Community Garden in Harlem from development.
Legal Action: Our Petition
To achieve heightened legal protection for community gardens through CEA designation, our Petition requests:
- Within six months following the submission of this Petition, or by May 18, 2021, the Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and Department of Education designate forty specific community gardens located within their respective jurisdictions as Critical Environmental Areas.
- Within twelve months following the submission of the Petition, or by November 18, 2021, 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
- Within twelve months following the submission of the Petition, or by November 18, 2021, 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.