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New York United States Housing Inequality Reports Garden Gentrification

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New York's surging property values threaten community gardens

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New York City has around 600 community gardens. Jeff Wright/Wikimedia Commons

New York City is hot and humid in the summertime, and one of the few places to cool off is inside one of the city's 600 community gardens. These gardens are especially important for those living in less affluent neighborhoods in outlying areas of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.


The gardens fulfill many needs, says Steve Frillmann, director of New York-based nonprofit Green Guerillas.

"These are neighborhoods that lack outlets for fresh food," he said. "You don’t have a lot of supermarkets or farmers markets so that’s a really critical role, and there are fewer services like after-school programs for youth."

These gardens were planned and built by neighbours, not by the city, and often on land neglected by the owner. As property values across the five boroughs are booming, and gentrification abounds, forgetful owners of these formerly trash-filled lots are trying to reclaim their land for sales to developers.

Simultaneously, New York City's mayor Bill de Blasio put forth a plan to build more affordable housing as hundreds of thousands of residents struggle to meet rising rents.

But as this plan is put into place, it too means these community-driven spaces are at risk, as the land used for some gardens may instead be used to build this affordable housing.

There is criticism of the plan. Some say it will contribute to rapid gentrification, pricing out residents. As crime drops and property values rise in these formerly economically depressed areas, not only public but private buildings are also going up. There is an ongoing argument about whether or not the changes are harming or helping these neighborhoods.

Justin Stern, a real estate developer in New York, says business is booming. "It's wonderful to see communities become vibrant, and blight eliminated from the city. A lot of dangerous areas being turned into relatively safe places to live and even raise families."

Others dispute the idea that the current building boom is improving these areas.

Shai Lauros works with a non-profit hoping to preserve neighborhood character.

"Families, communities and churches, and other faith-based networks, are being torn apart," she said. "I don’t think that anyone is against having more amenities in a neighborhood, but they want to do that with their friends and their neighbors, and that’s not what’s happening."