Beautifying NYCHA Housing, One Garden at a Time

Thursday, September 10, 2015

One of NYC’s most interesting (and competitive) annual contests is one that many New Yorkers likely don’t even know is taking place. Since 1963, residents of NYC public housing have been eligible to compete in the annual New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Garden Competition. Every August, NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program convenes horticultural professionals to serve as judges, as their resident gardeners compete to win the top spot in three garden categories – prizes can be won for the best Flower Garden, Theme Garden, and Vegetable Garden. NY4P staff have had the privilege to participate as judges for the last few seasons, and this summer’s batch of gardens were as impressive as ever.  NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program uses the contest to highlight the hard work, dedication, and care that NYCHA residents put into their beloved spaces. The competition is just one facet of what NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program does – they serve as an environmental education program that provides technical assistance and informational workshops for residents wanting to gain more horticultural knowledge.

NY4P’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Dora Armenta, served as a first time judge this summer. “I was blown away by the devotion and love NYCHA residents pour into their gardens. They truly transform the grounds to a space of beauty and community pride.” As we walked through each development, it became evident that these spaces serve to provide a source of community pride and a place for homegrown stewardship. One garden at the Wise Towers development on the Upper West Side was scattered with handmade signs featuring uplifting quotes for passersby to read. At Union Avenue Consolidation in the Claremont section of the Bronx, we spoke to a vegetable gardener who shares her crops with her neighbors – she even shared some of her fresh peaches with us while we were there. At Breukelen Houses in Canarsie, Brooklyn, long-time gardener and 2013 Brooklyn Daffodil Award Honoree, Ms. Anne Marie Rameau, once again wowed the judges with her impressively designed and beautifully blooming flower garden.

For NY4P Director of Outreach and Programs, Emily Walker, one of the most incredible aspects of the judging experience is getting to speak with the gardeners themselves. “At Parkside Houses in the Bronx, we spoke with a woman whose love of gardening was borne out of mourning. She told us about how after her son passed away, she realized she needed an outlet for her grief. His love of flowers inspired her to start beautifying a patch of land in front of her building in his memory. The results are incredibly colorful, beautiful, and welcoming, and clearly provide such a therapeutic outlet. It’s amazing that these residents have this kind of opportunity.”  Having the chance to view so many colorful, bountiful, and fascinating gardens throughout the city, one thing rang true – these are spaces that truly cultivate and grow community.

Breukelen Sight Garden

Peace Love and Breath Garden

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