Last weekend in New York, I spent most of Saturday morning wandering around the lower half of Manhattan - poking in the Chelsea Antique Markets, sipping coffee at Cafe Habana in Nolita, perusing the shops in the West Village. It's always a treat to find yourself in New York without a schedule, without the needing-to-be-there-by-this-time-to-make-this-reservation, etc. After I few hours of wandering though, I started to grow a bit weary from the stimulation. I also found myself trying to make a plan, even though no plan was really needed. In life, I have found that this is generally a setup for failure. What I should have done was taken a nap. However, my new plan was to take the F train to Brooklyn and explore a few neighborhoods that my friends lived in, which I hadn't done before. And so.
I got off the train at Atlantic Ave. and the sun was brutual. It was somehow 20* hotter in Brooklyn than the rest of New York. The concrete was radiating heat, horns were honking, kids were screaming. I fumbled around at the intersection, looking for my map and sunglasses trying to not drop my camera, ipod or iced tea. I could feel my patience exiting and the exhaustion kicking in. I was totally over Brooklyn before I even left the subway station.
As if on cue, I looked to my right and saw a small chalkboard sign perched against a long concrete wall that read "Your Garden is Open! Come on in and smell the flowers and sit in the shade." I climbed through a small entry way in the gray wall and discovered a tiny Narnia inside. Yellow daisies and cheerful marigolds lined the miniature walkway. Honey bees were humming along from flower to flower. Butterflies fluttered around my feet. A small canpoy of vines provided shade for a little kiddie pool and set of chairs so you could cool off your feet and read awhile. There was also a small plot of tomato plants and string beans and a wooden bench under a big maple tree. I sat down and rested, cooled off, soaked in the quiet. This place was an oasis. I'd gone from hell to heaven in 30 seconds flat.
I later did some research to see what saintly people were responsible for this magical place. Much to my delight, I discovered a dozen or more community garden groups in Brooklyn alone. Credit for this particular garden probably goes to the New York Restoration Project, which operates under the belief that greenspace in neighborhoods is fundamental to the quality of life and something that everyone deserves to have access to. Also to my delight, I discovered that program was founded by Bette Midler, who plays an active role in keeping the community gardens alive and thriving. The organization has reclaimed over 400 acres of under-resourced or rundown parkland in the last decade - no small feat given the limited open space in New York.
I also came across another amazing site called OASIS New York City.net, which is a sort of hand-made map search engine that you can use to locate the closest greenspace to you. OASIS, which stands for New York City Open Accessible Space Information System Cooperative, partners with more than 30 federal, state, and local agencies, private companies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations to create this one-stop, interactive mapping site. The site provides dozens of city maps, identifying anything from the closest community garden to ideal bird-watching spots on the harbor.
Although most of us don't call New York home at the moment, I think the idea behind these programs and websites is critical in creating and maintaining the greenspace in our own cities and communities. Below are a few sites that might inspire those of us outside NY:
- Buffalo: Even the home of the Buffalo Wing rocks out some fresh green space at Urban Roots
- Cleveland: Check out OSU's Urban Extention Program
- Chicago: Check out GreenNet Chicago, Chicago's "Greening Network"
- Los Angeles: Californians love this stuff. Check out the LA Community Garden Council.
- San Francisco: The Neighborhood Parks Council provides a great list
- Charlotte/Greensboro: Check out the NC Cooperative. Also - they're getting the kids involved with Garden Mosaics
I should note that Brooklyn continued to romance me that afternoon and we're now on fantastic terms, great friends even. I'm thankful for her warm welcome at the Atlantic Ave. community garden and for the inspiration to seek out similar spaces in the world.