It’s no secret that the Upper East Side is lacking in greenery. Not only did the neighborhood rank last in an index of open spaces published recently by New Yorkers for Parks, but the study also could not find any community gardens on the Upper East Side. The closest Parks Department-sanctioned Green Thumb community gardens are on Roosevelt Island, said Holly Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks.
So why the lack of seeds and saplings on the east side of Central Park? The answer comes down to valuable real estate, according to Sarah Gallagher a representative from Upper Green Side, a local green advocacy organization. In 2010, only .7 percent of the land on the Upper East Side was unused, as compared with Central Harlem, where almost six percent of the land was empty lots.
Simply put, Upper East Side land is too valuable to lie vacant. “I would say it’s virtually impossible to create community gardens here,” said Gallagher. “We really need more open spaces. They shouldn’t be able to develop every inch of land.”
The open space index only counted city-sanctioned Green Thumb gardens in its study. Naturally, the city put most of those Green Thumb gardens where there was open space and in areas of need like Harlem or Bedford-Stuyvesant. On Roosevelt Island, where there are more fields and open space, the two community gardens are the Bellevue Sobriety Garden and the Garden Club – their self-proclaimed “smaller version of Central Park’s Conservatory.”
But the Upper East Side is not completely barren – if you look up. Co-ops like Plymouth Towers have created private gardens for their tenants. This year at the Plymouth Towers vegetable garden, they are harvesting herbs like basil and mint, as well as tomatoes, hot peppers, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, squash and strawberries.
“God knows we have enough flat-top roofs with all of these high rises, so I think rooftop gardens is really the way to go,” said Sarah Gallagher.
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