Dozens of green-space advocates from across New York City gathered Thursday to demand the Parks Department and GreenThumb return to the negotiating table over rules that members say would make it more difficult to operate their volunteer-run spaces.
Garden groups have been told their licenses will be revoked if they don’t sign the documents — sparking chants of “don’t lock us out!” and “What do we want? A fair license!” alongside various local elected officials.
LUNGS later wrote on Twitter, “Hi Bill. … Don’t run away from us. Talk to us.”
City Hall deferred to the Parks Department’s comment on the gardeners’ complaints and didn’t respond to Patch’s requests for comment on their interaction with the mayor.
The advocates came to City Hall to speak out against the Parks Department reworking its GreenThumb licensing agreement with gardens, which it does every four years.
“The city has to reconcile with the fact that communities are organic,” Ray Figueroa, president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition, told Patch.
“We’re not corporate entities and as such they need to really wrap their heads around that and what that means,” Figueroa said. “We’re not going to let this go because it would mean letting go of our communities.”
Various changes — like additional permitting steps for events, liability put onto garden volunteers if someone were to get hurt at the garden, sidewalk-maintenance responsibility, among other concerns — have outraged gardeners.
“The city is creating regulations and rules that are just unworkable for our gardens,” said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, who represents Manhattan’s East Village.
“To micromanage it like that is really untenable for gardens,” referencing additional permitting paperwork for events in the gardens.
The Parks Department said one section regarding liability concerns was removed, and had been in the 2016 license as well. The new license requires submitting events for review by GreenThumb after fire injuries at events last year, the department said, and two fundraising events are now allowed with permission.
“GreenThumb Gardens are neighborhood gems that bring communities together,” Parks Department spokesman Dan Kastanis said in a statement. “These new license agreements reflect gardener feedback, and we continue to work with gardeners across the City to understand their concerns and answer any remaining questions they have.”
About 70 percent of the 380 gardens have signed the agreement, the department said. Kastanis added, “We currently have no plans to lock out gardeners.”
After the deadline to sign the agreement was extended last month, gardeners met again with the department, but no changes were made this month, said Charles Krezell, of LUNGS.
The gardens’ custodians and elected officials called for another negotiation before the Friday’s deadline to sign the agreement for the gardens — which were built up on abandoned lots decades ago. The gardens’ history is one of “environmental reclamation,” as well as important for immigrant communities and culture, said Council member Carlina Rivera, who represents Kips Bay and the East Village, waving a Puerto Rican flag.
“When the South Bronx was burning, we started with a group of people cleaning out empty lots,” added Max Rivera, of the South Bronx’s Rainbow Garden of Life and Health. “We’re going to fight to the end.”