In the late 1970s, Daniel Santana and about 14 neighbors turned a vacant lot on Anthony Avenue into a garden. Santana tended it diligently for decades, but in the late 1990s, the garden’s future, along with 114 others throughout New York City, was in jeopardy.
Under pressure to develop the garden plot, the administration of former mayor Rudy Giuliani announced plans to auction all these sites to the highest bidder. Gardeners protested, and in 1999 the non-profit Trust for Public Land came to their rescue by purchasing 62 of the gardens for a total of $3 million.
The ultimate goal was to transfer ownership and stewardship of those gardens to the people who built them up over the years. On Tuesday, June 28, that plan came to fruition as the Trust For Public land transferred ownership of its community gardens in the Bronx and Manhattan to borough-specific land trusts. Eighteen Bronx gardens were transferred and in essence, the community gardens are now owned by the gardeners who devoted hours to maintaining them.
“We’re locked in,” said Santana, who has lived on Anthony Avenue for 39 years. “As long as there’s a caretaker that will take care of the properties, they will be there.”
That is a bold statement coming from someone whose garden, and passion, could have been turned into an office building or a parking lot over a decade ago.
“It’s all love,” said the 66-year-old who works as a security guard for the New York Times. “I could put in seven hours at the garden, go to work, and I don’t feel fatigued. I feel fatigued when I don’t do it.”
The plan to purchase the gardens was formulated in part by Andy Stone, who has been the director of the Trust for Public land since 1988. He was excited to see the plan come full circle.
“What’s significant about it is people who remember what happened back in the late 90s, and what you have now is the reality that a lot of gardens have been saved,” Stone said.
The city planned to auction off a total of 115 gardens. Stone and the Trust for Public land identified the ones that they felt had the strongest leadership in place.
“In some ways it was self-selecting because we saved the gardens that were most actively used and had community groups already,” he said.
The Bronx gardens will be under the stewardship of an organization called the Bronx Land Trust. Manhattan’s gardens will also have their own land trust, while Brooklyn and Queens will share one.
Erica Packard runs both the Bronx and Manhattan land trusts. The trusts will be responsible for some fundraising in order to make infrastructure improvements to the gardens. But the day to day management will be totally up to the gardeners.
“It’s very appropriate that now the very gardeners who worked for the gardens and worked to save them now own them,” Packard said.