The Garden’s Gone
September 24th, 2012
Who would bulldoze somebody else’s vegetable garden?
In case you haven’t heard, the city of Harrisburg would. And did.
Last week, city workers scraped clean the lot at North Sixth and Curtin streets, a site that had been filled with more than $1,000 worth of new planter boxes installed in April by the non-profit Green Urban Initiative.
It was the group’s fourth community garden in Harrisburg – one that turns vacant lots into productive land that supplies fresh produce to interested neighborhood gardeners.
This one ran into trouble with neighbors – one in particular who convinced Harrisburg City Council President Wanda Williams to order that the tract be razed.
Sylvia Rigal complained that the lot became weedy, criminals were stashing guns in the planter boxes, and apparently worst of all, GUI disrespected the neighborhood by coming in and planting without asking if the people there wanted a garden.
From watching a Pennlive.com video interview of Rigal, I get the feeling there’s also some racial and/or territorial tensions underlying this. In it, Rigal talks about “two white guys” from Elizabethtown (i.e. outsiders) showing up to install the garden.
Have a look at the video on Pennlive.com.
Whether it was simple dislike of veggie gardens (Rigal does refer to the planters as “coffins without a lid”) or something deeper, Rigal’s complaints got the garden bulldozed.
That was the really surprising part since the cash-strapped city doesn’t have a good record lately of getting much of anything done.
The first question most people asked is, “How can the city afford to bulldoze a garden while being too broke to keep Reservoir Park, Italian Park, Riverfront Park, etc. from looking like an abandoned mess?”
The second question was, “What authority did Wanda Williams have to order the garden to be bulldozed?” Mayor Linda Thompson, who’s in charge of the city’s Public Works Department, says she didn’t know anything about the razing and didn’t authorize it.
The third question is one that’s hardest to answer: “Why did the city just go out there and destroy?”
Why didn’t the seven gardeners who spent their own money on plants and seeds at least have a chance to harvest their remaining produce? What a sinful waste, especially in a low-income neighborhood where fresh, low-cost produce is supposedly a big need.
“We received no notice that the garden was going to be razed,” says GUI’s Kirsten Reinford. “That’s our biggest issue because we had a lease with the city to use that land, and the terms of the lease stated that if either party wanted to be released from the contract, they needed to give 30 days written notice.”
Reinford says GUI’s other city gardens have been well received – certainly “nothing that could be called opposition” – and even this one had been getting mostly positive support from locals.
She also points out that GUI leased only 2 parcels out of the entire city-owned tract and that it was that other land — under city maintenance — that had gone weedy.
No one seems to know what happened to the planter boxes or to the two signs GUI had posted at the garden.
“We’re assuming they just got thrown away,” says GUI board member Kyle Shenk.
That would be another sinful waste.
No one reported finding any weapons hidden among the red beets and peppers either.
This whole incident is sad on so many fronts.
Why can’t people get along? Why can’t we all communicate better than this?
Instead of complaining about weeds, why don’t locals volunteer to keep nearby lots cut if the city can’t afford it?
If hidden guns are a concern, does anyone really think that razing the garden will stop that? I doubt that criminals will now go straight because they no longer have a suitable gun hiding place.
Now that the land is back to bare ground, has anyone thought of what will happen there next? Unless the city starts mowing regularly, those weeds are coming back soon.
Maybe worst of all, what message does this send to “outsiders” who are still investing their time and effort to make Harrisburg a better place?
How many are now going to say, “Why bother?”
Already, not many people are interested in helping. This surely doesn’t motivate more folks to roll up their sleeves and try to make a positive difference.
GUI says it will keep trying, although the group has no plans to rebuild any gardens on that site.
I’m hoping some greater good will come out of this somehow. That’ll be the gist of my Patriot-News garden column this coming Thursday, Sept. 27.
You can also read more about this garden-razing fiasco on Pennlive.