OPINION: Stop rubber stamping: Save Eliz. St. Garden

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Elizabeth St. Garden activists Emily Hellstrom, left, and Jeannine Kiely proudly displayed a banner at hearing of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in 2015. At the hearing, garden advocates testified against the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s application for L.M.D.C. funding for a planned affordable housing project slated for the garden. Photo by The Villager

BY EMILY HELLSTROM | I went to my daughter’s closet last Thursday morning to dig through her art bin. I was looking for a rubber stamp. As an Elizabeth St. Garden volunteer and supporter, I decided to bring it to City Hall to hold in my hand while giving testimony in favor of saving Elizabeth St. Garden. You see, we had been told, “Don’t bother showing up at the City Council hearing. They will never vote against the local councilperson out of deference. They just use the rubber stamp.”

This rubber stamp is a symbol of what is wrong with the process. How else to explain how this got so far?

Elizabeth St. Garden activists Emily Hellstrom, left, and Jeannine Kiely with a banner at hearing on funding for the city-sponsored housing project slated for the garden. (Photo by The Villager)

When land that has been public since the 1800s is sold to a developer for a dollar, decided during a secret backroom deal with former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver without so much as a courtesy call to Community Board 2…rubber stamp.

After the residents held hearing after hearing where hundreds of people turned out to show their support for the garden…rubber stamp.

When thousands of letters have been written in support of this stunning outdoor community center that many call the soul of our historic Little Italy neighborhood…rubber stamp.

The borough president came to our Harvest Festival, saw the diversity of the community gathered together and declared that this space should never be destroyed, but then out came…rubber stamp.

So our grassroots coalition went further. We realized how deep this housing crisis was and pleaded with our elected officials to help us find an alternative, so that green space and housing would not be pitted against each other, tearing our community apart. And they did! The leaders of our community board found a piece of land that could house up to five times as many seniors and they passed a resolution to allow that swap. And what do we get…rubber stamp.

Did our councilmember ever even bother to visit the Elizabeth St. Garden to see why this community has never given up? Sit down with us work on a solution? Did she forge coalitions, and find a win-win compromise, actually do the work of a leader, and harness the boundless energy of garden supporters? She could save the garden and, in return, demand that we unite our efforts in the charge for making more affordable housing. But no, she did not.

She is simply relying on this rubber stamp.

But I have faith that the City Council knows better. That they will put an end to this cynical process, that robs people of their voice. At the Council hearing earlier this month, joined by well more than 100 garden volunteers and supporters, I asked the councilmembers to vote against the destruction of our precious green space and put away this dreaded rubber stamp. I said that, in doing so, they would have a community ready to get to work.

Put away the rubber stamp, because we are ready to participate!

Hellstrom is a board member, Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden