Urban agriculture plan would close the ‘freshness gap,’ say lawmakers

A community garden in Astoria, Queens.

The plan would promote NYC farming and community green
spaces

A new bill backed by nearly 50 elected officials would require
the city to develop an urban agriculture plan that would promote
farming and community green spaces across the city.


The bill
, introduced by City Council member Rafael Espinal,
Jr., would require the Department of City Planning (DCP) to take
stock of the boroughs’ existing and potential urban agriculture
spaces, and identify zoning and land use policies that could be
tweaked to cultivate their growth. Such a plan aims to close the
“freshness gap” by expanding the availability of fresh greens
and fruits in low-income neighborhoods, Espinal stressed at a
Tuesday City Council hearing.

“When we support urban farms and community gardens we are
creating more equitable access to affordable and healthy food,”
he said. “We have to strive past no New Yorker going hungry and
go a step further to ensure that no New Yorker is starved of fresh
food.”

If the bill is approved, city officials would have until July 1
to craft the plan and deliver it to Mayor Bill de Blasio, City
Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and post it to the city’s
urban agriculture website
. The feasibility of creating an
Office of Urban Agriculture would also be explored in the report,
according to the bill.

City planning officials are on board with the idea, but want to
ensure that specific issues facing the urban agriculture community
are being addressed in the plan to ensure city resources are being
used “efficiently and effectively,” said Alex Sommer, the
deputy director of DCP’s Brooklyn office.

“We support the growth of urban agriculture broadly and we
want to work with you on identifying specific issues, but in terms
of the comprehensive plan, we want to make sure we’re identifying
specific issues first before moving ahead with that,” said
Sommer.

Cities including
Boston
, Atlanta, and
Seattle
have already embraced urban agriculture with plans or modifications
to land use policies to help their urban agriculture spaces
flourish. The first step in that process for New York City, is to
strengthen protections for those green spaces, say advocates.

“I think this is a good start. but there’s a lot of work to
be done,” said Aziz Dehkan, the executive director of the New
York City Community Garden Coalition. “We still need a lot of
protection. We need permanence of community gardens. We can’t let
the wedge of affordable housing and community gardens continue in
this city. They are compatible.”

While acknowledging the dire need for new affordable housing,
Espinal pointed to the planned destruction of Nolita’s Elizabeth
Street Garden—which does not grow produce—for low-income senior
housing, and the Nelson Mandela Community Garden in Harlem for
affordable housing, and called city plans to build on those spaces
rather than truly vacant lots as a “serious blind spot from City
Hall.”

New York City owns 5,027 undeveloped parcels that are considered
“vacant.” That includes wetlands, unusable slivers of land
along streets or between buildings, and in some cases, community
gardens, according to the Department of Administrative Services
(DCAS).

Currently, there are different definitions of “vacant
property” across several city agencies, according to DCAS. The
city is in the midst of developing a uniform definition for such
spaces. Of those lots, the Parks Departments uses 850 for community
gardens or park space. Some 550 are community gardens, many of
which produce fresh produce for their communities,

“We need to pay more attention to what’s actually happening
on the ground in oder to play a leading role in this
conversation,” said Espinal.

Somer recognized that there are “a whole host of different
proprieties across the city,” but that there is no black and
white answer when it comes to choosing between affordable housing
or green space.

“We rely on the ongoing public review process to help weigh
those priorities,” said Sommer. “We know it’s very difficult
and there’s a lot of things we have to pick between.”

Source: FS – NYC Real Estate
Urban agriculture plan would close the ‘freshness gap,’ say lawmakers