Why Community Gardens Are New York City’s Most Underrated (Free!) Amenity

published Jun 29, 2019
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Living in New York City means constantly negotiating (and competing for) space with your neighbors. Applying for an apartment with abundant natural light and large common spaces is cutthroat enough, but if the listing has a backyard, rooftop access, or even a small balcony? It can be a college admissions-level intense process.

I’m from Singapore, one of the most built-up, population-dense countries in the world, so I’m not a stranger to space-constrained places. I can handle New York’s tiny, dark, and expensive apartments for the most part, but what has remained a struggle for me over the past few years is its lack of open, green spaces.

Singapore is abundant in greenery, so much so that its national motto is a “City in a Garden.” What I yearned most for while living in Williamsburg was to sit among trees and people, but not have to go to Central Park to do so. When a park is a 30-minute subway ride away, chances are I’m not going. I wanted to be in my own community.

So when I discovered Keap St. Garden, a community garden, just around the corner from my apartment, my contentment with NYC life increased dramatically. Tucked away throughout the five boroughs lie 600 of these community gardens, providing residents space to plant food and flowers or just generally enjoy the greenery. The majority of them used to be vacant lots converted into public green space by residents. They’re run by volunteers and are funded by donors, membership dues, grants, and city money. Many gardens host local events like movie nights in the summer, while others function as community quiet places. Some gardens even function as farms!

Over the years, I’ve grown fond of my local “Keap Fourth,” as well as the other community gardens I’ve discovered. I’d even consider them one of the most underrated free “amenities” the city has to offer. Here, just five reasons why I love them so much:

1. They’re more private than the big NYC Parks

The community gardens I visit are quiet and intimate. They’ve proved themselves to be prime spots for meditation and a peaceful reading break. Whereas ten families and their dogs might surround you in Central or Prospect Park as you try to have a difficult conversation, community gardens give you a more neutral, private, yet safe space to talk in.

2. You can feel closer to the land (or the city)

Most community gardens allow you to volunteer with small-scale planting and farming projects, which makes it possible for just about anyone to try their hand at planting roses, tulips, vegetables, or whatever else!

3. They sometimes give out free produce and herbs

I’ve found members often share the herbs and vegetables they grow at their community garden! Not only do you get brownie points for eating close to the source, it’s a smart way to save some money, too.

4. They’re a cheap, romantic date!

Some of these gardens would make a beautiful spot for a first date, especially if you’re trying to save a bit of cash. Think about the nice surprise waiting when you bring your somebody special to your little garden oasis, and you can point out the food or herbs that you’ve helped grow there, like a proud plant parent!

5. They’re a great way to get to know your neighbors

Whether you like it or not, it’s hard to get to know the people who live around you in New York City, especially when your building doesn’t have a space to facilitate neighborly interactions. Spending time at a community garden has allowed me to spend time sitting underneath trees and among chirping birds, getting to know some of my neighbors. If you ask me, it’s quite the perfect summer scene!

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