October 7, 2022

In an effort to protect community gardens from development, more than 70 groups petition city officials to designate the green spaces as “critical environmental areas” under state law.

The campaign grew out of a student project at the Pratt Institute, where Raymond Figueroa Jr., the president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition is a faculty member. Mr. Figueroa sent half a dozen graduate students to community gardens across the city in 2019 to conduct interviews and collect data.

“Wherever there was raised planting beds, compost and trees, they contributed significantly to the garden’s ability to absorb and retain water,” said Mr. Figueroa on the expedition’s findings.

City park officials — who oversee most community gardens through their GreenThumb program — recognize that the gardens are an essential part of New York’s green infrastructure. They “are a small, yet powerful resource in our portfolio of stormwater management efforts across the city,” said Jennifer Greenfeld, Parks Deputy Commissioner for Environment and Planning..

But not everyone agrees that community gardens should be labeled as critical environmental areas. There is currently only one such designation in New York City, according to park officials, and it’s for an entire region: Jamaica Bay and its tributaries, tidal areas and adjacent areas. Community gardens are already protected from development under city regulations, these officials claim, adding that no gardens in the GreenThumb program have been closed in the past five years.

As New York City is predicted to hit more frequent and intense storms due to climate change, much more needs to be done at all levels to “make the city rainproof,” said Amy Chester, director of Rebuild by Design, a nonprofit organization. who recently published a report on the importance of “transforming the concrete jungle into a sponge.” This can be as simple as installing barrels in backyards to collect rainwater that can be reused for watering plants or washing cars to more ambitious projects like retrofitting school and office buildings with green roofs.

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