|Vol. 12, No. 25
||Dec. 30, 1999 -
Jan. 12, 2000
A Norwood News Exclusive
NYBG Donors Rescued Community Gardens
By JORDAN MOSS
When the Giuliani administration announced last
year that 125 of the city's community gardens would be auctioned off to the highest
bidder, long-time green thumbs rallied and hoped against hope that the beloved plots they
had reclaimed from rubble and refuse would somehow survive the ordeal.
They did survive, but not without the behind-the-scenes participation of the New York
Botanical Garden (NYBG) and two of the institution's biggest supporters.
Henry Everett and Lewis Cullman, both members of the NYBG's board of directors, donated
hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), the non-profit that
eventually bought the 29 Bronx gardens put up for sale. Cullman's and Everett's
contributions were enough to cover the cost of the Bronx plots.
"Both were incredibly generous and concerned about [the auction] and stepped right up
to the plate," said Rose Harvey, a senior vice president at TPL. "They were
fabulous. They came to us. We didn't go to them."
The NYBG had a tremendous interest in the sale because it runs the Bronx Green-Up program,
which provides materials and technical assistance to all of the Bronx gardens. Because the
NYBG receives a significant portion of its budget from the city, it did not publicly decry
the auction, irking some community garden activists. Karen Washington, a Crotona gardener
who got her start in 1988 when the NYBG helped her and her neighbors reclaim a vacant lot
and replace it with the Garden of Happiness, said she understood the organization's
situation and was glad it stepped in when it did. But, at the time, she and many other
gardeners desperately wanted the institution to at least issue a brief statement in
support of community gardens.
NYBG officials, though, decided against making a statement. "We didn't believe that
that would be the most effective way for us to create value in this situation," said
Earl Brown, the NYBG's director of government relations.
But, out of the public spotlight, Brown said -- and Harvey confirmed -- the NYBG and its
donors were instrumental in saving the community gardens.
Harvey said the NYBG was "hugely supportive of the initiative" to buy the plots.
"They couldn't take an active role as an institution given their circumstances,"
she said, "but behind the scenes they offered strategy, time, support, and were
helpful in directing us to potential donors who ultimately did give to the cause."
One of those donors was Henry Everett, a philanthropist whose name is familiar to most
Garden patrons because the Everett Children's Adventure Garden bears his name. Everett,
who with his wife, Edith, donated $125,000 to the cause, sees the gardens as central to
the civic and cultural life of the city's neighborhoods. "Local people take pride in
them," he said. "They get together and work together and exchange neighborhood
Cullman, who was not available for comment, gave even more money to the effort, Everett
said. Cullman is known for his company that makes the At-a-Glance calendars used by
millions of Americans. Everett said he made his fortune in the investment management
Brown said the NYBG's participation in the effort is central to its mission. "The
Garden feels that the commitment we have to the Bronx community is of the utmost
importance," he said. "We believe that Green-Up is very important and is an
integral part of this institution."
Green-Up's budget is about $500,000, most of which is raised privately by the NYBG, Brown
said. In addition to lending a helping hand to local gardeners, the project, which was
founded about nine years ago with the help of Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer,
encourages young green thumbs by working with schools in the borough on garden projects.
Though gardeners and open space advocates were relieved not to lose the precious parcels,
many say, that because several hundred more plots could still eventually be sold,
gardeners are not out of the woods yet.
"This will be a success if it's the end of private purchase of public land and the
beginning of a policy to protect existing parkland," Harvey said. "I didn't see
it as an unmitigated success, and I don't think a precedent should be set of more
purchases. I don't think the philanthropic world would provide substantial dollars for
Harvey said her organization has a letter of agreement with the city which TPL officials
believe will allow it to acquire the remaining gardens "for no further
consideration." Harvey said that basically means that the properties would be
transferred to them at no cost "in return for us assuming the stewardship."
Nonetheless, gardeners are keeping their guards up, preparing for any eventuality.
Washington said she is looking forward to discussing strategies to further protect the
garden plots when she and other Green-Up veterans meet with Brown and other NYBG officials
early in the New Year.
See Related Article:
A Green Thumb with Big Plans
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