Another community garden bites the dust at the hand of wealthy developers. The latest victim is the Boardwalk Garden, a local staple that had survived for 16 years with love and maintenance from the residents of Coney Island. Members of the garden were helpless to protect the land since it was destroyed without warning in the dark of night.
The 70,000 square-foot Boardwalk Garden at West 22nd Street featured 40 plots full of plants and vegetables. The nearly two dozen chickens that lived in the garden were corralled into pet carriers and abandoned outside of the property. The feral cats that took up residence in the garden were even worse off — left to their own devices to survive the bulldozing.
In the garden’s place, developers intend to construct a $53 million, 5,000 seat amphitheater. Residents of the area have long been opposed to the concert venue in general. However, even after the community board voted not to approve the construction, moneyed interests got involved and convinced the city council to give them the go ahead, despite continued objections from residents.
Elena Voitsenko, one of the garden’s members, compared the covert nighttime operation to the communist maneuvers she emigrated from Russia to escape. “They destroyed life!” Voitsenko told the New York Post while crying. She has taken responsibility for the displaced chickens until a new home can be found for them.
Fellow volunteer Yury Openzik also expressed anger. “I’m heartbroken not only for myself, but for the elderly people that were gardening here every day,” he said.
The developers, meanwhile, maintain that they are in the clear for bulldozing the garden without warning. They claim that the garden was officially “decommissioned” in 2004 and has been “operating illegally” for the past decade. For those keeping score at home: using abandoned space to do something positive for the community is illegal, but sneakily ruining the hard work and food supply of well-meaning citizens is perfectly acceptable.
Many in Coney Island contend that the developers only ambiguously have the law on their side at best. According to a press release by the New York City Community Gardens Coalition, the space had been deemed a public “parkland,” thereby guaranteeing it certain legal safeguards from real estate development. Rather than following their own existing environmental regulations, however, the City ignored and altered these procedures to push approval of the amphitheater through more easily.
The NYCCGC also alleges that the developers had offered to find gardeners an alternative site so residents could transplant their crops. Before this plan could be negotiated, however, the developers just razed the site while no one was watching. Apparently, it seemed easier to bulldoze everything than to try to save the vegetation.
With moves like this one, New York City may lose its title as one of the best cities for community gardening. What does it say about a city that has such little regard for 16 years of its residents’ joy and effort? What does it say about a city that is willing to hand over the amount of public space available to commercial entities?