Urban Gardens, A Break from the Grey City

Join the Community Conversation! What are your stories of urban community gardens?


Living in a concrete jungle can be a bit overwhelming, especially with the great expanse of tall buildings and only a slight view of blue skies. Although I grew up in New York City and am familiar with the views I just mentioned, I have had the pleasure of spending the last few years of my life in Austin, Texas, which is known for being one of the greenest cities in the country. That being said, when I moved back to New York City and into Harlem, I almost forgot how ‘grey’ NYC was; I was worried that I would not be able to find the green fields embedded in the city environment that I was so used to seeing in Austin. Then, as i approached my new apartment, I came across a community garden! It was as if someone had read my mind and placed a beautiful, green garden steps away from my new home.

I did not know much about community gardens; they were something new to me because when I left NYC, there were not many ‘green’ areas. The only places I knew of, where people could lay on the grass or smell the damp ground, were Central Park and a few other parks scattered throughout the boroughs. However, as I assimilated back into the big city life, I noticed more and more gardens and green patches throughout the city. There are gardens between brownstones, on the roofs of buildings, and even in, what used to be, empty lots. This excited me because I was able to enjoy what the big city could offer while also relaxing in the green environment I became accustomed to in Austin.

After doing some research, I found out that NYC has over 700 community gardens, with hundreds more arising regularly. These gardens are not only places to relax and enjoy a break from the overbearing hustle of the city, but they are also places that “provide locally grown sustenance to neighborhood residents, filling in where parks do not or cannot exist.”

These gardens not only provide local sustenance but also a sense of community. By participating in greening NYC, a community is built within neighborhoods. The New York Restoration Project says, “the quality of life of urban neighborhoods are dramatically improved when open spaces are well-used and maintained- engaging community members through an array of public programming.”

Community gardens offer a multitude of resources, from programs such as Green thumb , which holds workshops every month throughout the year in order to provide gardening basics and supplies to those who want to start their own community garden to others such as Open Space Greening of GrowNYC, which aids in creating and sustaining community gardens. Open Space Greening has “created [and] rejuvenated over 60 community gardens” while working with “schools, public housing associations, and community groups to transform vacant land into vibrant civic spaces that challenge communities to interact with one another”. They also have a grow truck program that delivers and loans tools to neighborhood greening projects and they also provide cheap vegetable, herb, and flower starters to community gardens, schools and block associations.

These community gardens and green spaces are beneficial to our growing city. They promote clean air and reduce the impact of urban heat island while also providing sustainable local produce to nearby communities. They create an environment for community members to learn about their environment while also participating in sustaining their lives.

To learn more about community gardens you can attend events offered by the New York Restoration Project. Also, if you would like to participate and become a community gardener, you can find a community garden near you and join!

By Muge ‘Mugzy’ Undemir, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Climate and Coalition Building Intern

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