By Griffin Kelly
August 26, 2021
New Yorkers for Parks is doubling the reach of its annual Sept. 11 Daffodil Project to also honor those who’ve died from the pandemic. “COVID is not a single moment like 9/11. It’s this continuous shared tragedy, but we’re not able to be together in the same way,” the group’s director said.
Each spring, 500,000 daffodils bloom in New York City. It’s not just mother nature at work: It’s an organized effort to symbolize rebirth and togetherness in the face of horror.
New Yorkers for Parks, an open space advocacy group, has planted just under 8 million daffodil bulbs over the past two decades to commemorate those lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This year, the group is doubling its Daffodil Project efforts and planting 1 million bulbs to also honor New Yorkers who’ve died from the COVID-19 virus.
“Coming out of COVID, coming out of a year and half where New Yorkers have relied on our parks more than ever before, we really felt that the project had a greater poignancy,” said NY4P Executive Director Adam Ganser.
The effort is one of several ways that artists and community organizations have used public displays to grieve and commemorate the more than 30,000 New York City residents lost to the coronavirus. They’ve set up video and photo installations, and tied flowing ribbons to park fences. City lawmakers have introduced legislation to pave the way for a municipal memorial to honor frontline workers, and the state is also planning its own public COVID memorial, though initial plans for one in Battery Park fell through.
The commemorative daffodils will go into the ground this summer and fall, and bloom this spring in parks and green spaces across the five boroughs. Like they have during the pandemic, Ganser remembers many people gathering at the city’s parks and playgrounds after the 9/11 attacks, just to find some sense of comradery.
“We didn’t know where to go or what to do,” he said. “It was a shared tragedy. COVID is not a single moment like 9/11. It’s this continuous shared tragedy, but we’re not able to be together in the same way.”
When the pandemic took shape in New York, the city and state invoked emergency shutdowns on schools, theaters, restaurants and, in some cases, parks. While larger open park spaces remained open, city playgrounds—which in some neighborhoods are residents only green spaces—were closed for more than two months.
“The result of that was nearly 1 million New Yorkers lost access to park space because most of the neighborhoods in the city rely on tiny parks and spaces,” Ganser said. “It’s not a coincidence most of the communities were communities of colors and those hardest hit by COVID.”
A million daffodil bulbs costs $100,000, which is mainly funded through donations from Con Edison, Ganser said. They’re then distributed to schools, museums, community gardens, businesses and houses of worship throughout the city for planting.
Artist Michael De Feo has designed the logo for the Daffodil Project, a simple yet charming flower akin to a drawing that would live on a fridge for years. Much of his work is rooted in depicting floral patterns and designs.
De Feo was teaching high school at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and recalls when a coworker first told him the Twin Towers had been hit. At first, he figured it was like the 1945 incident when an Army Air Force B-25 bomber, lost in a thick fog, accidentally flew into the Empire State Building, killing more than a dozen people.
“I didn’t realize the size and scope of it,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words when I did realize what had happened and watching the towers fall. The overarching feeling was that nothing will ever be the same again.”
Soon after the attacks, De Feo felt the need to continue his street art projects. “It seems kind of silly in a way, but I guess I was trying to bring some more hope and beauty to people and myself as a way to process something that was so terrible,” he said.
More information about the Daffodil Project, and a map of where the flowers are expected to bloom, can be found here.