Can a garden change a whole city? The short answer: yes! By bringing together communities, gardens are changing your local concrete jungle in astounding new ways that can elevate us all. While it may not seem like a radical act at first glance, gardeners have been at the center of transforming cities into green oases that uplift communities for generations. People like these folks, who turned a surplus of abandoned lots in New York City into green spaces for their communities, are forever changing the city!
All it takes is a few folks who really care to make a lasting change. And in this case, two rebellious gardeners on a mission to uplift their community.
The people who greened the Big Apple!
New York City in the 1960s and 70s looked a whole lot different than the city we know today. Abandoned lots full of trash went on for blocks and blocks—urban decay was rampant throughout the city’s borders. White flight and redlining left many communities in disrepair, without the resources to improve. And with little trees and green space, pollution and the urban heat island effect—which can make temperatures rise by 3-4°C—made life pretty unbearable for the people who were left in the city.
Facing what many of us would see as insurmountable odds, two notable women stepped up and turned their crumbling neighborhoods into green spaces that still spark delight to this day.
Hattie Carthan of the Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy) neighborhood in Brooklyn, and Liz Christy, a resident of the Lower East Side in Manhattan, took it upon themselves—with ingenious methods—to bring green back to their streets. Working separately in the streets and abandoned lots of their own neighborhoods, each woman led a coalition of people on a mission to create a healthier environment for their communities.
For a great look at how their work has affected the city for generations to come, here’s a great video from Vox!
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Learn more about Hattie Carthan’s Magnolia Tree Earth Center and the Liz Christy Community Farm and Garden over on each of their websites to see how the legacy of these two pioneering women still lives on in the best ways today.
Even half a century later, their communities are flourishing. And now, as our species faces our biggest environmental crisis yet, their work is helping more than ever.
Do you want to take part in greening up the space in your community?
Here are some easy steps to get started!
- Seed bombs! Here’s a great resource on how to make them—it’s super easy. Just mix all the ingredients, pack them in a bag and then go for a walk around your neighborhood. Whenever you see an abandoned lot or a space with limited greenery, throw one of your seed bombs! Later that season or next year when you walk by, you’ll see the efforts of your work as flowers wave back at you.
- Grow your own garden! This not only provides yummy food and fresh flowers for you, but also supports your local pollinator populations and positively impacts your mental health and your neighbors‘! Here are some great plants to start with on your growing adventure.
- Find the city department in your area who is in charge of green spaces and work with them to grow their programs.
- Join or create a community garden!
- Tell your local representatives that it matters to you. Ask for more trees and green spaces.
Even putting a pot of flowers on your stoop is a fantastic start!
Want to see how others have greened up their communities in creative ways? Check these stories out next!
As always, my friend, stay open to new possibilities! You have more of an impact than you may think. I mean, you only need to stroll through NYC to see what Hattie and Liz made possible.
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