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Sunday, March 28, 2010

More Rainwater Harvesting

March was a very busy month for Rainwater Harvesting. We installed 3 systems with GrowNYC staff and GreenApple Corps members. At the Fantasy Garden in Brownsville, Brooklyn we installed a 1500 liter tank on a 350 square foot garden structure.

At the Wishing Well Garden in the Bronx we
installed a 500 gallon tank on a 120 square
foot structure housing a composting toilet
and shed.

in the Bronx we built
a 200 square foot shade
structure with
a 1500 liter tank.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) is a key piece of the sustainability puzzle for community gardeners. I spend a considerable amount of my work time assisting community gardeners setting up RWH systems. This past weekend I led a workshop for 25 NYC gardeners on RWH at the GreenThumb Grow Together. Last week I worked with the Green Apple Corps to install a RWH system at the Fantasy Garden in Brownsville, Brooklyn. New York City now has at least 55 community gardens with RWH. The GrowNYC website has an extensive RWH section including a map of all of the systems, a how to manual and pictures of many of the systems. A New York Times article highlighted this work and profiled me and the RWH system at my home. You can view a video showing a RWH system being built at the Joe Holska Community Garden in Staten Island. There is a collaborative of New York City environmental and community gardening groups, the Water Resources Group that has a blog of information on RWH. As you can see there is a wealth of resources for community gardeners and others who are interested in RWH.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Community Gardens increase nearby property values

Q - Do you see the community gardens as a victim of their own success in that they have helped regenerate areas and then the land the gardens are built on have more value and are sold?

A - Yes, the gardens could be seen as being victims of their own success. Often the improvement of the vacant lot spurs other neighborhood improvements physical, social and economic. A good study of the increase in adjacent property values by community gardens was done by the Furman Center at NYU.

From the abstract:

"We find that the opening of a community garden has a statistically significant positive impact on residential properties within 1000 feet of the garden, and that the impact increases over time. We find that gardens have the greatest impact in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Higher quality gardens have the greatest positive impact. Finally, we find that the opening of a garden is associated with other changes in the neighborhood, such as increasing rates of homeownership, and thus may be serving as catalysts for economic redevelopment of the community."

Download the paper.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Community Composting

March is a busy time in the garden and for gardeners. In NYC, 2 big events happen every year in March, Making Brooklyn Bloom and the GreenThumb GrowTogether. Both are great networking events and help to kick off the gardening season. I attended Making Brooklyn Bloom 2010 this weekend. With the theme, Soil in the City, the workshops focused on dirt in its many meanings. One workshop highlighted the OASIS mapping site as a way to dig up the dirt on your garden or any property. Several workshops were devoted to composting - making new soil from organic waste. The one that I attended that is key to the concept of sustainable community gardens and sustainable cities was a workshop on Community Composting. Community Gardens can be a important piece of the urban composting puzzle and several possibilities were presented. Community Gardeners have tried a number of methods of "community composting" . Gardens take food scraps from neighbors. While this is a way to help reduce waste, to truly make a difference in behaviors, one garden allows neighbors to drop off their kitchen scraps but also asks them to help by adding the scraps to the appropriate bin or to help aerate or turn the compost. The Fort Greene Compost Project, a group of gardeners (really composters who are community garden members) collect vegetable waste and kitchen scraps at the local Greenmarket in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The project now collects 1500 pounds per week that gets composted at 5 sites as well as taken back by the farmers to upstate farms. Since the volunteers incur expenses to transport the waste material, they now ask for a donation from those who drop off the waste to help make this project sustainable. There are problems with rodents and odor at some of the community garden composting sites. It is difficult to make this type of project work entirely with volunteers. This would be an ideal project to receive city funds or grants. Another group of community gardeners collected leaves dropped off by neighbors in the fall as a response to the city cutting funding for curbside fall leaf collection. One of the gardens uses some of the leaf matter to grow mushrooms. This is yet another in the array of techniques that could be used in a distributed community composting suite of programs. Community Composting an important piece of the Sustainable Community Gardens, Sustainable Neighborhoods, Sustainable Cities picture.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mapping Community Gardens

This week I attended a meeting about mapping community gardens - an interest of mine for the past 10 years. I created, managed and nurtured the New York City Community Garden Mapping Project for GrowNYC, the organization formerly known as Council on the Environment. We have collected the information and maintained the GIS shape files and database for what started as about 850 gardens and now is about 500 gardens. Currently an intern is updating all of the information and OASIS (Open Accessible Spaces Information System) the web platform that is the server for the maps has just released version 2.0. The group that held the meeting, The Food Systems Network is very interested in using mapping tools to spatially represent all kinds of information and analysis of New York City's Food systems. Mapping technology has changed drastically in 10 years; we now have Google Earth and all kinds of mashups. I presented the story of the early days of mapping community gardens to the ESRI User conference in 2001. Having the OASIS platform has helped to make the community garden mapping we have done in New York City a great resource. Other cities have mapping applications on websites as well. In 2006, I wrote a paper "Show Your Gardens to the World" that highlighted some of the best efforts at that time. It was also an attempt to set in motion, the mapping of all of the gardens in North America. ACGA has taken the next step in a collaborative effort with Urban Harvest that invites community gardeners to list their gardens in a mapping application on the ACGA website. A lot more can be done to map all of the gardens in North America. It would take a major research effort but I think it would be valuable in many ways. It might even answer the question, How many community gardens are there?

Monday, March 8, 2010

To continue the discussion of Community Garden Policy or lack of in New York City......
In response to the looming expiration of the Agreement or Settlement all kinds of discussions are taking place. Recently I attended a conference Standing Our Ground sponsored by the New York City Community Gardens Coalition. A lot of promises were made by politicians, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City Council Parks Chair Melissa Mark-Viverito and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe all were very supportive of preserving the gardens. No one spelled out what that will be. In 2002 before the Settlement was reached I worked along with a group of folks from a coalition of groups supporting community gardeners to come up with legislation that would have created a policy to insure the preservation of existing gardens and spell out the steps necessary to create new gardens in the future. I haven't seen anything that has improved on these words yet:

  • New two-year leases for all existing community gardens, and the opportunity for two-year leases for new gardens. (All garden leases were revoked in 1998 when the community gardens were transferred from the Parks Department to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and there is no allowance for the creation of new gardens now.)
  • The requirement that all development proposals for community garden sites go through ULURP, rather than the abbreviated UDAP, which does not provide sufficient public input and review.
  • Designation of “community gardens” in the IPIS database of all City-owned property and other City documents. (Community gardens are currently listed merely as “vacant lots.”)
  • A stronger role for GreenThumb, to ensure its ongoing existence and to enable it to raise private funds to support community gardens.

I think the discussion should start from here. If changes have to be made to the legalese to make this stand up to the City Charter then lets work on it but the spirit and the intent of any community garden policy for New York City should have the same result as what was proposed in 2002....
insure the preservation of existing gardens and spell out the steps necessary to create new gardens in the future.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Community Gardening Policy is a favorite topic of mine. I will be adding posts on community garden policy from time to time. It is a concern now in NYC because "The Agreement" between the city and the attorney general is set to expire this year and discussions are taking place about what will take the place of this agreement which is protecting community gardens from development. It is not clear what would or could happen once it expires.
So yesterday it was interesting to attend a meeting in Mount Vernon, NY , on the Bronx border, where the city planners were discussing open space as part of their comprehensive planning process and community gardens were part of the discussion. Now, Mt. Vernon has 68,000 residents (the 8th largest city in New York State), one community garden and the garden was started just last year. They hope to have a second this year. It is a whole different level of discussion from New York City with 600 or more gardens. Nonetheless, the Mt. Vernon folks were having this discussion and were doing urban planning and hopefully will come out of this process with a community garden policy.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Let's start with a definition.
A Community garden is a shared green space which is planned, designed, built and maintained by some community members for the use and enjoyment of the entire community. Community gardens may be solely used to raise food for gardeners and/or the surrounding community, a decorative formal garden, an educational or rehabilitative facility.