Housing vs. Community Garden: which is the more valuable use of land?

A few months ago I read about a housing development proposed for construction on the site of the community-run Elizabeth Street Garden in New York City and was struck (as I often am) by how one good choice often comes at the expense of another. I support both housing and community spaces (especially gardens) and having to choose strikes me as cruel. Now, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the organization behind the project, has applied for $6 million in funding from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and intends to proceed as soon as the money is released.

Proponents of the housing cite the swiftly aging population of the neighborhood and the dearth of available affordable housing options. Proponents of the garden extol its community value: the garden hosts educational events, festivals and yoga classes in addition to providing a welcome reprieve in part of the city with minimal green space.

Both arguments, of course, have their merits. Without housing, the number of people who can use the garden might dwindle. Without a garden, the number of people who feel connection to the neighborhood, who know and are friendly with their neighbors, who feel pride of place will dissipate.

The land belongs to the city but was leased to nearby Elizabeth Street Gallery beginning in 1991 for use as a sculpture garden. The gallery owner cleaned up the lot, added sculptures and opened the area to the public.

Garden-supporters want HPD to consider other city-owned lots as alternatives, but officials seem set on the Elizabeth Street location. A compromise in the form of community space on the redeveloped lot does not seem to be an option. Project officials say a small garden space may be available to residents, but the rest of the community would be excluded.

It is a pity that the local government has so little concern for this valuable community resource.

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