Grass-roots community projects in New York
by Alys Fowler
In June 2000 I travelled to New York to study community outreach programmes. I had previously lived in New York for a year before coming back to London to study at Kew. During that time I was working at the New York Botanic Gardens, there I witnessed a very wonderful movement happening. All over the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn, there were little green oases, small patches of community gardens run by local residents. On returning to London, I set out to see what was happening here in the way of community gardening. To my delight I found a thriving population of community gardens all over London. The movement here in London has been happening for nearly 20 years, and yet we are far behind our American cousins in terms of the support offered towards such sustainable grass-roots movements. My trip back to New York was a chance for me to gather more information on how and what support was offered in the New York area.
I concentrated on visiting two major programmes that work in the New York area: New York Botanic Gardens has the longest established community outreach programme, Bronx Green-Up. It works with individual and community groups to improve urban neighbourhoods through greening projects. It helps residents transform rubble-filled lots into gardens, provides educational programmes in local schools, and sponsors a regional composting project. Bronx Green-Up has over 350 gardens and lots registered as members. I spent a week working with the Director of Programmes, Michael O’Conor, looking into two areas of the programme: service and programmes for existing community gardens, and the development of new greening projects. One of the new developments is Courtroom Classrooms, a programme which helps local schools set up living laboratories. These accommodate a class at a time, allowing teachers to build the garden into lesson plans. The second major programme I visited is Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s GreenBridge. Running for seven years, it concentrates on children’s education, but also helps to set up community gardens, runs a contest for the “Greenest Block”, and courses on citizen tree pruning.
There isn’t enough space to write in detail about the work these two programmes have achieved and continue to do so. Their work has had a profound effect: both Brooklyn and the Bronx are affected by poverty. The work these programmes have done to introduce refuge, inspiration and nature into these areas has had a great influence. These programmes have provided not only the pleasures of gardens, but also contribute greatly to the social, physical, economic and environmental well being of these communities. The travel scholarship highlighted my desire to work with the environment on small-scale projects. Since coming back, I have begun my dissertation on a proposal for a community outreach programme here at Kew. On a final note, I would like to thank all my sponsors, especially the Kew Guild.