Botanic Gardens Conservation International
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Case Study 1 Bronx Green Up

Abandoned apartment buildings, vandalized playgrounds, vast tracts of empty lots strewn with debris. These are the images that the world has come to associate with the Bronx, New York City, a borough that has become a symbol of the worst urban blight. People of many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds make up the local population but the two largest groups are African American and Latino.

In such an environment learning about ecology and conservation is not usually a priority but the New York Botanical Garden is attempting to change things. Situated in the heart of the Bronx, the Garden runs an innovative outreach programme, helping to turn some of the 10,000 vacant lots into community gardens and parks. The process of turning a trash-filled lot into a green oasis is not an easy one. Bronx Green-up is committed to a community led approach providing help and assistance to community groups who want to reclaim the environment of their surroundings.

The first step, once a piece of land has been identified, is to seek permission from the City to lease or use it. Bronx Green-Up (BGU) can help community groups to cut through the mass of ‘red tape’ that this usually entails and once permission has been granted, can provide: lessons in ecology, horticulture and conservation; tools, supplies, plants, seeds, transport; and technical assistance with the physical work of clearing the lots and creating green spaces.

Over 1,000 families have now worked with BGU staff, creating 170 neighbourhood gardens. Groups that BGU have worked with include senior centres, schools, social services, drug rehabilitation facilities, and special education learning centres. Many people working on the programme find that as well as developing horticultural and ecological skills and knowledge, they have learned about city politics, improved their problem solving skills and gained valuable insights into human relations.

Community gardens are enhancing neighbourhoods and providing residents with modern day commons where people can come together to plant and nurture, not only seeds of new plants and fresh vegetables, but also the seeds of understanding and friendship. Working together, residents are taking charge of their environment, building pride in themselves and their community.
In order that the work might continue, community volunteers are trained in basic horticulture and gardening so that they in turn can offer assistance to community gardeners. In this way the Bronx Green-up programme is helping to establish a reservoir of expertise that will serve the borough for years to come.

Perhaps the greatest and most lasting benefit will be for the children of the Bronx. Now these children not only have gardens and parks in which to work and play they also have a chance to learn their first lessons in environmental stewardship and to develop an appreciation of the natural world.