Monday, December 2, 2013

A Garden in Winter

According to the calendar on the City of Hudson website, the Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency (HCDPA) is meeting on Thursday, December 5, at 6:30 p.m. At their last meeting, on November 7, the Hudson Community Garden, at Columbia and Second streets, was the topic of impassioned discussion. 

The Hudson Community Garden has been in its current location for twenty years, evolving and developing a unique ecosystem. Forty families have plots in the garden and grow a significant amount of their food there. Because, back in 2009, long term mayor Rick Scalera identified the lots at the corner of Second and Warren, which were acquired by the City in the 1970s, as one of three areas where Habitat for Humanity could build, it is Habitat's expectation that they can uproot the garden and build from three to five more of their passive solar houses there, pursuing their "campaign and commitment to build out the street."

This morning, as the meeting approaches that could possibly decide the fate of the community garden, the garden directors, Sarah Falkner and Vanessa Baehr, announced on the community garden's Facebook page a project designed to be visible evidence of the community's support for the garden. They have invited supporters and well-wishers to collaborate in creating a mural on a large banner to be hung on the garden's fences through the winter. In their words, "This will bring color and love to the corner this winter and will show the board of HCDPA that we use the garden as a means to come together even after the harvest has ended." The theme of the mural is nature, food, and community, and people are invited to show what the garden means to them by painting a picture, writing their thoughts or a poem, or just adding their hand print.

The work on the mural started this afternoon and is still going on--until 6 p.m.--at Wellness Collective, 514 Warren Street. Tomorrow--Tuesday, December 3--it will continue in the Children's Room of the Hudson Area Library at 400 State Street from 3 to 6 p.m. On Wednesday, December 4, there are two sites where you can give your visible support: at Sketch, 701 Warren Street, from 2 to 6 p.m., and at the Hudson Youth Center, 18 South Third Street, from 3 to 5 p.m. The plan is to hang the mural on Thursday morning prior to the HCDPA meeting, which takes place at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.


  1. So, the deal that was done in secret -- Mayor Scalera's "promise" to Habitat -- will stand as status quo while the status quo -- the Community Garden -- must now justify its existence? This is insane. Has anyone looked at the Scalera promise to Habitat? Was it legal? Was it public? Did the Common Council approve? For this Council to recognize some secret pact today does not make that pact right -- it only makes this Council a co-spirator!

    1. I don't think that it's the Common Council that will decide. The lots are owned by HCDPA, so it is the board of HCDPA that will make the decision. That board is made up of the mayor, Cappy Pierro (Common Council majority leader), Ohrine Stewart (Common Council minority leader), and Don Tillson (chair of the Planning Commission). Lyle Shook, who used to be on the HCDPA board, resigned a month or so ago, and I don't who has replaced him on the board, if he has been replaced, or the process by which the one board member who is not an elected official or political appointee is chosen.

  2. But there seems to be droit du seignor here, regardless of which City agency is involved. Isn't Habitat claiming the propoerty based on a promise made by Mayor Scalera? Isn't that the premise? Why else is HCDPA considering it? Why else is the question so limited: Habit or Community Garden? If we were truly trying to decide what to do with public property -- is HCDPA a public entity? -- wouldn't there be a series of public meetings? No, no, whether City Council or HCDPA, we are being offered a Hobbesian Choice. WE -- the public -- deserve better.

  3. There's so much manipulation going on it would be unbelievable except that this is Hudson.

    Last month Pierro stated that the lots were slated for housing as "a stipulation," i.e. a condition. Since then nobody can point out where any stipulation was ever established.

    The head of the HCDPA has expressed her wish that the lots be used for housing, but probably to avoid criticism the HCDPA has deferred its authority to Habitat's decision.

    The Habitat board, for its part, must have collaborated on this ploy last summer. It was surely decided beforehand that Habitat's chances were better if public opinion had to choose between the two non-profits, rather than the garden and the HCDPA (another non-profit!).

    It was a cynical miscalculation. Consider the possibility that an outlet like FOXnews gets wind of the face-off, or (30 million viewers daily!) which ran a similar story from Florida three weeks ago.

    Because the Right-leaning media like nothing better than exposing the Left as a loose aggregation of special interest groups (well?), the spectacle of two such groups opposing one another is grist for that mill.

    On the other hand, the Right-leaning media strongly favor community gardens. That Florida story above had readers siding with the gardeners, and not the municipality that was eradicating them. This is something FOXnews has in common with an organization like the National Audubon Society.

    So in a well-publicized face-off with Habitat for Humanity, our garden would be the winners. And that's something that can and should be brought to the attention of the national Habitat organization as soon as possible.

    Surely the national organization has the brains to spot its county chapter's miscalculation, and word would quietly descend from on high to back off.

  4. ...where is the outrage over the mayor's plan to turn over North Bay lands to the "conservancy"?...this is a huge chunk of city property, more than one hundred community gardens, and while the noise is all about the police station and garden, the big deal is going down without fanfare...

  5. Unheimlich is correct--we can count on HCDPA to do the wrong thing. I suggest that those who have contributed to Habitat in the past put pressure on their board members and director, and threaten to withhold future contributions until they withdraw their application.

  6. By "our" garden, I meant a generally valued community institution. I'm not personally involved with the garden, and what follows is entirely deduced from external observation. However, it's also arrived at by some familiarity with other practices of the HCDPA.

    By their own admission, the directors of the community garden have settled on a course which accords with their sense of honor. They don't wish to be perceived as criticizing Habitat for Humanity.

    But looking from the outside, the terms of engagement were to some degree engineered by parties who doubtless regret the garden's presence in the first place. Even before the garden group was notified of any threat, the situation recommended any number of public relations ploys for those doing the notifying.

    Subsequently, the moment the HCDPA framed the outcome as being entirely a decision for Habitat for Humanity to make - the HCDPA thereby appearing to relinquish its authority - Habitat tacitly agreed to a duplicitous strategy.

    First, the HCDPA self-consciously adopted the mantle of a neutral mediator. This "mediator" feigned to honor the garden directors with a "negotiating position," but in actuality the garden was being positioned.

    To be seen as honoring the garden was paramount, because the proffered "negotiating position" concealed a design to funnel the gardeners towards a single "compromise," to use the HCDPA's term.

    In the so-called compromise, the gardeners who'd already signaled they had no stomach to criticize Habitat would simply and obediently acquiesce, thus making way for the inevitable and famously beneficent housing group. The idea was to manipulate the vacancy of the lots with impunity, the wager being that the kinds of people who support community gardens are generally loathe to criticize organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.

    Even now, as long as Habitat for Humanity is tasked with deciding the fate of the lots, the same prefabricated "compromise" is on the table: the garden directors must agree to voluntarily relocate, period.

    This being Hudson, it's easy to suspect a conspiracy between the HCDPA and Habitat, wherein some such strategy was decided beforehand in anticipation of a mutual public relations headache.

    But in all sobriety, is there any other way to interpret the situation? How in the world did Habitat for Humanity agree to take responsibility - and to be SEEN as accepting the responsibility - for a decision that's entirely the HCDPA's to make?

    Strip away the fuzzy sentiment and it's plain to see that Habitat continues to pursue its advantage in accord within the original, passive-aggressive tactic, whoever thought of it first. If the situation was otherwise, Habitat would have relented by now.

  7. You were correct, Peter:

    As a Municipal Urban Renewal Agency, the HCDPA is a "corporate governmental agency, constituting a public benefit corporation" (General Municipal Law §553).

    It's the Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) that's the non-profit.

    Many pardons.