I recently have moved to a new apartment in the city of New York, right next to Central Park, in 104th St. I didn’t even realize when I was within the insanity involved in apartment hunting in Manhattan (something worth an entire investigation, not only for the prizes, but for the typologies), but right across the street there is a Community Garden.
Is the West 104th Street Garden, founded in 1996 as part of Operation Green Thumb, the largest community gardening program in the US, and made into an official New York CityPark in 1998.
The history of CommunityGardens in the US, and especially in New York, is really interesting. Conceived as a way of produce food out of vacant lots inside the city during WWI and WWII period (called Victory Gardens, or War Gardens), they emerged back strongly during the 70s.
Movements as Guerrilla Gardening with examples as the Liz Christy Garden or the Garden of Eden, brought back the idea of using those empty spaces for community life. Movements that were formalized by organization like Green Thumb, or by the cities themselves by acquiring the gardens for their preservation.
Currently there are more than 600 gardens in the five boroughs in New York managed by Operation Green Thumb, a great amount of community space in a city where the land is so expensive that is at least surprising that those gardens are still in their locations.
The idea is as simple as is effective, by occupying vacant lots as community spaces (and fighting for its formalization in the time that was needed), those spaces prevent nowadays extreme gentrification in their neighbourhoods; because if they were not gardens, they would be a new condo with luxury dwellings.
But, as interesting as the idea sounds, it has its practical limitations. I would like to go back now downstairs, to the West 104th Street Garden, a “New York CityPark” that I haven’t seen open yet. Through their website I get the information that is open to the public on Wednesdays from 5pm to 8pm during June, July and August, and Saturdays and Sundays in the morning from April to October (if weather permits).
That fact, from my point of view, undermines the strong purpose of those spaces. Is true that members of the garden, who actually take care of it and monitor the opening hours, are subject to other rules, but it doesn’t work as a green public space, which would be way more interesting in a city as New York.
Personally, I enjoy very much the fact of having that green space in front of my house (much more than having another housing block). I have written before about urban farming initiatives that I visited in my home town that, as I explained, were located away from the city urban fabric, so I find stunning the fact of encounter them inside the density of Manhattan.
But I cannot help the feeling of being yearning for more. I would like to have the chance of being aware and experience those spaces without the need of becoming a member, inside the process of getting more involved in the actions that take place in the city where I live, as part of the evolution of cities and citizens.
In that case, the space is there, visible but no accessible; what if is time to review the purposes, uses and regulations of CommunityGardens?