ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION
“When the Uprooted Put Down Roots.” By Patricia Leigh Brown. New York Times. October 9, 2011. At the Saturday farmer’s market in City Heights, a major portal for refugees, Khadija Musame, a Somali, arranges her freshly picked pumpkin leaves and lablab beans amid a United Nations of produce, including water spinach grown by a Cambodian refugee and amaranth, a grain harvested by Sarah Salie, who fled rebels in Liberia. Eaten with a touch of lemon by Africans, and coveted by Southeast Asians for soups, this crop is always a sell-out. Among the regular customers at the New Roots farm stand are Congolese women in flowing dresses, Somali Muslims in headscarves, Latino men wearing broad-brimmed hats and Burundian mothers in brightly patterned textiles who walk home balancing boxes of produce on their heads. New Roots, with 85 growers from 12 countries, is one of more than 50 community farms dedicated to refugee agriculture, an entrepreneurial movement spreading across the country. American agriculture has historically been forged by newcomers, like the Scandinavians who helped settle the Great Plains; today’s growers are more likely to be rural subsistence farmers from Africa and Asia, resettled in and around cities from New York, Burlington, Vt., and Lowell, Mass., to Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Diego. With language and cultural hurdles, and the need to gain access to land, financing and marketing, farm ownership for refugees can be very difficult. Programs like New Roots, which provide training in soil, irrigation techniques and climate, “help refugees make the leap from community gardens to independent farms,” said Hugh Joseph, an assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts, which advises 28 “incubator” farms representing hundreds of small-scale producers.
“Privately Owned Park, Open to the Public, May Make Its Own Rules.” By Lisa W. Foderaro. New York Times. October 13, 2011. Zuccotti Park, the half-acre plaza in Lower Manhattan now synonymous with Occupy Wall Street, exists in a strange category of New York parkland, identified by a seeming oxymoron: a privately owned public space. The park was established in a wave of development that spurred corporate plazas after changes were made to the city’s zoning laws in the early 1960s. The laws generally give real estate developers zoning concessions in exchange for public space. There are now at least 520 such parks, arcades and plazas in New York City, both indoors and out, providing a total of 3.5 million square feet of space. Zuccotti is unusual in that it does not adjoin the 54-story office tower, 1 Liberty Plaza, that spawned it. Rather, it is bounded on all four sides by streets: Broadway, Trinity Place, and Cedar and Liberty Streets. And while the developer did not win the right to build a larger structure in exchange for the park, it was given leeway on certain height and setback restrictions, according to Jerold S. Kayden, a lawyer and professor of urban planning and design at Harvard University. Perhaps most important, from the perspective of a long-term protest like Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park — unlike city-owned parks — is open 24 hours a day. Private parks and plazas that were developed under the original zoning rules governing them are generally open around the clock, while those created under more recent rules may close from dusk to dawn. About half of the privately owned plazas are required to be open 24 hours a day, according to the Department of City Planning. By contrast, the city’s parks all have curfews: the latest is 1 a.m.; a number close much earlier. All playgrounds close at dusk, and some parks in Queens have curfews as early as 9 p.m. So an encampment like the one at Zuccotti Park would be impossible in a city park, where structures like tents are prohibited without a permit. “The city had a policy for encouraging commercial developers to create open space in exchange for more height,” said Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University. “But until now, no one has thought about the issue of what the rules are. This has highlighted one of the gaps in New York’s planning system.”
“Park Rules Scrutinized.” By Eliot Brown. Wall Street Journal. October 15, 2011. Casting a wary eye on the four-week-old Occupy Wall Street encampment, a group representing some of the city’s most influential landlords plans to ask the city to revamp the rules governing privately owned parks, including removing a requirement that they be open 24 hours a day. “We’re going to be clearly recommending to the city that there need to be some changes,” Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said Friday. “If you can say that the plazas are closed between 1 and 5 a.m., I’m not sure who that’s harming.” REBNY has yet to draw up specifics. But the effort signals a growing concern in some of the city’s most powerful circles that there is no clear path to ending the protest in Zuccotti Park. The park is one of more than 500 privately owned but public spaces that developers created in the city in exchange for building rights. It’s owned by Brookfield Office Properties Inc. but open around-the-clock to the public as long as visitors abide by the rules. It appeared that an eviction was imminent Friday after Brookfield said it would begin cleaning the park and allowing protesters to return only if they didn’t erect tents and sleep on the ground. But political pressure and criticism from protesters mounted on Brookfield, which faced calls to let the demonstrations continue. Hours before a showdown with the protesters and their allies was expected to take place, the landlord aborted the plan. Other landlords have watched the experience of Brookfield with trepidation. Citing health and liability concerns, many have privately worried whether such similar protests would be possible at their own plazas. The plazas are a common sight throughout Manhattan, a gift of city zoning rules that allow developers to build more office space if they also construct a public space.