In 2013, a parcel of Ithaca land at Carpenter Business Park that has been used as a thriving community garden for the last 30 years may be sold to a developer as a way to bring revenue to a cash-strapped city. According to Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, the developer plans to commercialize the space and possibly create a grocery store or a boutique hotel, both of which are antithetical to the space’s current function as a public good.
Many Ithacans view the $92,000 the city stands to gain from selling the garden as paltry compared to the value the garden brings to Ithaca, and we agree. Celebrity chefs and first ladies alike need look no further than Ithaca to find an example of how community gardens can increase the access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables for low income families.
This isn’t about the land; it’s a question of the value of public goods. The garden does not cost the city a dime. Instead, it allows 150 or so families to take agency over what they eat. That’s something a country as corpulent as ours could use more of. It would be myopic to squander.
The argument that development should be favored because it alone increases property values does not withstand scrutiny. A 2006 N.Y.U. Law School study found that in developments with community gardens, home property values within 1,000 feet of the garden rose by two-and-a-half percent relative to property more than 1,000 feet away. The study also suggests that gardens could have a noticeable positive impact on commercial property prices in the long-run. It concludes by stating that if administered using tax increment financing, a community garden can increase tax revenues by $750,000 over 20 years.
One key to a successful community garden is accessibility. Though the city has proposed moving it to other locations, gardeners contend spaces such as Cass Park are difficult to reach on foot. Walkability is critical for low-income gardeners who may have little or no access to a car.
Not all development is bad; however, in this case, eliminating the garden would decrease the quality of life of many Ithacans. This would add Ithaca to the growing list of cities that have eliminated community gardens, while at the same time urging citizens lead a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle — a request that depends on the existence of the community gardens for many Ithacans.
If the Mayor does sell the land, we urge him to find an alternative location of which current stakeholders approve prior to inking the deal.