Rep. Maloney’s ‘RECIPE’ Act Missing Ingredient for Real Revitalization

Posted on: September 20th, 2019 at 5:00 am by

Photo: Children’s Magical Garden

Last week, U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney (NY12 District) held a press conference to reintroduce the RECIPE Act (Revitalizing Cities through Parks Enhancement) –  a clever acronym for a bill that proposes $10 million in funding for community gardens and parks through HUD, not just in New York City, but nationwide.

La Plaza Cultural Center de Armando Perez Community Garden, a lush, green space with roots in the Lower East Side as far back as the 1970s, served as backdrop for local elected officials, each delivering a brief personal story of how parks shape communities, educate children, and protect the environment.

The RECIPE Act, originally introduced over 18 years ago with the same $10 million funding for community gardens on municipal land, arrives when housing activists are demanding developments on city-owned vacant lots to relieve homelessness and create housing equality. Maloney’s legislation, well-intentioned as it may be, appears outdated given the fierce competition on land-uses for city-owned lots. The battle has pitted housing activists against green space advocates for the environment, mental health, and quality of life.

Absent from the RECIPE Act press conference, though, was how municipal land would be secured for creating new community gardens given that battle lines have already been drawn in an ideological turf war over scarce city land. And no one is budging.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who spoke at the press conference, did acknowledge challenges associated with land uses and how this measure would help. However, supporters of Elizabeth Street Garden were surprised to see Brewer advocating for community gardens given her YES vote for Haven Green, the controversial affordable housing development set to rise atop the Little Italy urban oasis.

“I’m a big supporter of community gardens,” Brewer said at the press conference, concluding that she was “devoted to community gardens.”

Brewer’s subsequent tweet about the RECIPE Act drew the ire of ESG Inc. Executive Director Joe Reiver, who responded to Brewer’s Twitter post as hypocritical.

Brewer had initially flirted with the supporters and nonprofit organizers advocating to preserve Elizabeth Street Garden from redevelopment. But when speaking at a pro-Garden rally back in 2014, Brewer steered clear of any real commitment, instead offering the same thanks and congratulations to activists she delivered last week at La Plaza Garden, while acknowledging the hard challenges in fighting for community space against development.

Brewer’s ULURP statement and testimony before the City Planning Commission appears to be in direct contradiction to what Rep. Maloney proposes with the RECIPE Act.

Photo: Rep. Maloney

As previously reported, alternate City-owned sites were pitched instead of the Elizabeth Street Garden site. Unfortunately, our housing crisis and growing senior population do not allow for an either/or scenario. Brewer stated in the ULURP – “we must build permanently affordable housing wherever feasible while also maximizing open space on these sites for additional public benefit.”

Brewer argued that housing must be a priority, and part of any new development on city-owned land given the affordable housing crisis and scarcity of vacant lots.

But Rep. Maloney’s legislation would only fund community gardens on municipal land, and that land would need to be free of any structures. The all-in-one approach to Haven Green, with housing and “public green space” on one site, would not be eligible for the $250,000 maximum grant funding.

Habitat NYC CEO Karen Haycox, who, as spokesperson and co-developer of the Haven Green development, explained that a “non-binary choice” is necessary when it comes to housing and public green space, offering up Haven Green as an all-in-one approach and as a “model for future development,” even as its public space component remains only a vague idea.

Rep. Maloney’s remarks at last week’s press conference harkened back to the 1970s, when residents banded together to rid their neighborhoods of urban blight on vacant lots brought on by the financial crisis and sanitation strikes. But this belief that community gardens could revitalize a neighborhood also conflict with statements by housing activists. As Karen Haycox explained in a 2018 CityLimits Op-Ed: “the community development models of prior decades, used when eradicating urban blight was a priority, are outdated.”

Ironically, HPD had deemed the Elizabeth Street Garden site as an area of “urban blight” with its Urban Development Action Area Program designation, although the application was abruptly pulled just prior to the City Planning Commission’s hearing on Haven Green. UDAAP is one of few mechanisms HPD has to dispose of city-owned land to a private developer without a competitive bidding process.

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