NYC Community Land Access Summary
An Advocate's Summary of Routes to Land Access for Community Uses
Many existing community controlled urban agriculture and community food production sites in NYC now are licensed through GreenThumb, a city agency that straddles the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and the Department of Parks and Recreation. GreenThumb is a route for interim use licenses between gardeners and City agencies that own land. GreenThumb sometimes shepherds interim projects on formerly vacant public land into becoming permanently protected projects by transferring them to the Department of Parks and Recreation. 596 Acres can help your group prepare and application for a GreenThumb license on vacant public land and advocate for permanent protection for an existing site. Using the map on 596acres.org, you can identify sites that are opportunities for Green Thumb licenses in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens (we're working on the rest of the city). The Department of Housing Preservation and Development encourages interim use on its sites and met their commitment of licensing 25 new sites between January 2011 and January 2013.
There are also hundreds of gardens on the campuses of the New York Housing Authority (NYCHA) and many of those grow food. With some narrow exceptions, NYCHA land is reserved for gardening by NYCHA residents; gardening on NYCHA property by NYCHA residents is supported by the NYCHA Garden and Greening Program. If your project seeks to work with NYCHA residents to grow food on NYCHA property, 596 Acres can help you craft a formal proposal to present to NYCHA officials.
Some urban agriculture sites on vacant land in New York City exist by means of an agreement directly between the agriculture practitioners and the specific City agency that has site control over the land. The Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Added Value in Red Hook, and the new Myrtle Village Green site in northern Bed Stuy are examples of groups that have access to formerly vacant public land by having an agreement directly with a City agency. 596 Acres can help your group negotiate an agreement with any agency that has vacant public land that a group can present an urban agriculture vision for. Using the map on 596acres.org, you can identify sites that are opportunities for getting access for urban agriculture projects as interim projects or long-term projects.
You can see the gardens that exist now in NYC on public land at 596acres.org (turn on the layer called "community gardens on public land").
The Department of Citywide Administrative Services has been under a mandate from City Council since December of 2011 to maintain a searchable database of all city-owned and city-leased property with the goal of gathering information regarding whether properties might be suitable for urban agriculture. This database has not yet been launched. There is likely an opening for presenting economic development projects on public land to city agencies who are looking for actionable ways to enact PlaNYC.
LAND TRUST LAND
Some NYC food production sites are part of a “land trust”. Land trusts are non-profit organizations whose mission is to conserve land, usually for the benefit of the public in the form of parks and open spaces. In NYC, local land trusts, such as the Bronx Land Trust, the Manhattan Land Trust, the Brooklyn-Queens Land Trust, and the Brooklyn Alliance of Neighborhood Gardeners,
have acquired many plots with the express purpose of keeping them open to the public as community gardens. The land’s use as a community garden is made permanent in its deed - the legal document that conveys ownership to the land trust. Future owners of the land may have to to continue its use as a community garden (or other acceptable public use). If the owner can or will not continue such use, they may have to convey the land to another organization that could keep up its use as a community garden.
596 Acres can help your group develop a successful strategy to conserve your land for community garden use (forever!), based on tried and proven models used by other land trusts. Restricting a piece of land forever (a restriction that is referred to as “running with the land”) is possible by making sure the intention is specified in the deed that conveys the land to the land trust. Sample deeds can be found here to give you an idea of how these restrictions are phrased to achieve maximum effect.
Some gardens in NYC are privately owned by organizations whose mission it is to support gardens, like the New York Restoration Project. Some are owned by the organization that runs them, like the 1100 Bergen Street Block Association in Crown Heights. Some gardens are simply there with the permission of the land owner (others are on privately owned land without the private owner's consent).
A lot of vacant lots in New York City are privately owned. Individual community groups and private landowners who see the benefits of having a site activated versus sitting abandoned and vacant also work together to make urban agriculture opportunities. The big difference is that when it's a private owner, it really is all about the relationship.
A good online tool that might help you find an existing garden to plug into is Garden Maps (it shows gardens on public AND private land). An even better tool is your feet - take a walk and meet the gardeners in your neighborhood.