Pueblo Unido Press Conference
Press Conference and Memorial for the hurtful destruction of Pueblo Unido,
and partial destruction of 110th Street Block Association community garden.
Over 30 community members, supporters and representatives showed up on Tuesday to see the devastated community garden of Pueblo Unido as well as 110 Block Association garden and to demand justice for this criminal act perpetuated in the Harlem community. Olga Ramos gave a detailed history of the 15 year-old community garden in Spanish. “We held many community activities and the children of the nearby schools came at times to collect leaves,” she said. "I feel very sad. I invested a lot of money, love and time, and we are all in shock.”
Melissa Mark-Viverito then spoke on how the actions of the developers were unacceptable.
There had previously been agreements to work through a deal to preserve and relocate as many community gardens as possible. She had spoken to HPD and they too were extremely upset.
The developers will still have to get her vote at city council before getting any city land.
Joel Kupferman of the Environmental Law Project spoke on how this illegal action needs to be addressed first by making sure all the damages were rectified to the satisfaction of the community gardeners. As part of the State Attorney General’s agreement with the Mayor, all concerned agencies must sit down together to make sure that communication is facilitated and that the legal aspects, as well as the intent of any plans for preservation or development, are clearly conveyed between the government, the gardeners and the developers.
Anthony Bowman, the president of Nueva Esperanza––a recently evicted community garden displaced by the Museum of African Art and 150 Luxury condos––spoke of unity. He spoke of making sure that the attacks on community gardens and the divide and conquer tactic of developers are not successful, and instead a chance to bring all concerned groups in Harlem together.
Alex Brown, president of Harlem United Gardens, a coalition of 20+ community gardens in Central and East Harlem (90% are endangered), gave a short report on comments given to him by GreenThumb and their response to the developer's actions. He responded by saying that Green Thumb has been investigating since Friday and it was evident that the developer went ahead and did this damage without any permit from HPD or didn't have any authorization from the City to be on the garden sites AT ALL. The Attorney General’s office and City Law Department were starting to work on settlement, and Green Thumb would be trying to access how much damage was done, But in any case, the developer had probably burned all of his political bridges, and Brown couldn't imagine that the Councilwoman would be well disposed toward his development proposals at this time. He also mentioned that since April is now being celebrated as National Garden Month, we might be able to gain some unexpected exposure to our plight with development and this type of illegal action. Also after hearing just last week, that HPD had uncovered hundreds of vacant lots throughout the City, we might have gained some leverage in not just the future negotiations with the developer for alternate sites, but also with HPD in terms of allowing more of Harlem to remain green by permanently protecting the current gardens being considered for development and keeping them as community assets.
Olga Mazurkiewicz from More Gardens! spoke about Friday April 13th when she noticed workers erecting a fence on 110th Street Association garden. She then went to check out the Pueblo Unido garden, discovering that there was a head worker cutting all the shrubs away. When she started asking him what he was doing, he stated that, “it was his garden”. When she asked for more information he refused to give it, stating that the garden was slated for excavation on the following Monday. All the trees, except for one tree in the back of the lot, were cut down, the two casitas were completely removed, the pots were overturned, plants were ripped out of the ground and were lying scattered across the destroyed plant beds while the man cutting the shrubs stepped on everything as if it was garbage. After consulting with Aresh Javadi from More Gardens! she called the police, who promptly arrived and asked the gentleman for information which he again refused to give. The police told him he had to close up and leave. He jumped into his truck and sped off. The damage was mostly contained to the Pueblo Unido garden, which was destroyed.
Aresh Javadi of More Gardens! read out the list of destroyed items one by one:
9 year old Peach tree, (two thirds of her branches chain-sawed))
7 year old apricot tree,
6 year old white pine,
8 year old Atlantis tree,
2 year old Apple tree in a pot
7 year old rose bushes – four of them,
one large tool shed,
four beds for planting,
two wooden Benches,
GreenThumb sign stand,
kids basketball hoop and stand,
small kids toys (tricycle, riding car toys, roley cars),
stand and draws,
He also mentioned that there will be a 5th of May / Cinco de Mayo Celebration Rally of the Harlem community gardens, to make art, dance, play music and to make sure that the 20 endangered community gardens of Harlem are made permanent.
Michael Vincent Crea, a local pastor, emotionally expressed how this was truly a terrorist act and that no developer has the right to come into our neighborhood and commit such crimes.
Benay Chisholm of Nueva Esperanza, and other HUG community gardeners, vigorously condemned this action and gave condolences to the Pueblo Unido community garden. They also vowed to help restore it to growing condition for the Spring Season.