Between exiting Mayor-Nanny Michael Bloomberg announcing plans for a citywide voluntary (eventually mandatory) composting program, the release of an updated hurricane evacuation map, and the launch of solar-powered phone charging stations in city parks, it’s been a busy news week here in New York City. And let us not forget about the never-ending noise over Citi Bike, the latest development being that the bike share program may extend to areas of Brooklyn and Queens affected by ongoing, inconveniencing work on the much-beleaguered G Train to repair Superstorm Sandy-related damage.  

There’s also some intriguing news of the urban farming variety coming out of my own waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, which was also recently named the location for Global Green USA's first full-scale Solar Sandy installation.

Earlier today, ground was officially broken — or shovels made contact with kale-filled soil, rather — on a new 1-acre farm located on what used to be a vacant lawn located in the Red Hook Houses, Brooklyn’s largest public housing development and the second largest in the entire city (only the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City is larger).

Spanning 39 acres, the 2,878-unit development made national headlines not all that long ago during the days — and weeks — following Superstorm Sandy when thousands of residents were left literally in the dark without running water, heat and electricity and no clue as to when things would return to normal. At the Red Hook Houses and other public housing developments across the city, things were really bleak there for a while.

With that darkness and despair largely in the past and residents of the Red Hook Houses moving on, this new farm will put 34 spading fork-wielding local teenagers to work with a goal of getting “kids off the streets and into the fields, with the added benefit of eating better at home,” according to Crain's New York.

Explains Kristin Morse of project-funding city agency, the Center for Economic Opportunity: "This program tackles two of the Bloomberg administration's main initiatives. One is food and anti-obesity issues and the other is anti-poverty. This isn't just a farm, but a job for these young people."

In addition to the “seed money” and oversight provided by the Center for Economic Opportunity, the farm at the Red Hook Houses is being launched in partnership of nonprofit Green City Workforce and Added Value, the fantastic 13-year-old force behind the existing 2.75-acre Red Hook Community Farm — a farm that sustained serious damage during Sandy — that’s located near both the Red Hook Houses and Brooklyn’s IKEA outpost. The mission of Added Value:

Added Value is a nonprofit organization promoting the sustainable development of Red Hook by nurturing a new generation of young leaders. We work towards this goal by creating opportunities for the youth of South Brooklyn to expand their knowledge base, develop new skills and positively engage with their community through the operation of a socially responsible urban farming enterprise.
Outside of Red Hook, the New York City Housing Authority hopes to expand the farm program to four other housing projects across the city and, like at the Red Hook Houses, partner with local community groups and nonprofits to sow the necessary logistical seeds.

This past March, more details emerged about the severely cash-strapped authority’s outrage-sparking scheme to lease parcels of land located within eight different Manhattan housing developments to private residential developers in an effort to raise funds — an estimated $30 to $50 million annually. The plan would replace parking lots, outdoor plazas, basketball courts, and community centers with about 4,300 new market-rate apartments, only a small (required) chunk of them falling under the affordable banner.

With the NYCHA embroiled in controversy over the land leasing plan and its  post-Sandy failings still fresh in the mind of many, you do have to wonder if the farming program is being instituted as a do-gooding distraction of sorts while also fitting snugly into Bloomberg’s sometimes misguided anti-obesity crusade. Perhaps it is, as an urban agriculture program potentially expanding to public housing developments across the city is certainly good PR for the dysfunctional, federal sequestration-impacted authority. But more importantly than that, it's just a plain good idea.

Says NYCHA Chairman John Rhea: “We have this footprint that needs to be utilized, and there are multiple ways you can do that. Preserving open space is just as important as building on it to generate new funds. The key is the open space will be better at the end of the day."

Via [Crain's New York]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Brooklyn's largest public housing development gets urban farm
A 1-acre plot at Brooklyn's Red Hook Houses has been transformed into an urban farm that will employ local teens and provide hyperlocal food to the community.