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Mending the World within Our Reach

Wise-woman storyteller Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes once wrote, “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” That line always reminds us of Brooklyn’s gardeners. And this is a crucial time to get our hands dirty.

When BBG launched a study of the Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest last year—to pinpoint what has worked well and what needs improving—hundreds of contest participants answered the call to help. We learned a lot about your concerns, but at the heart of our findings were stories, relationships, creativity, and collaboration.

  • Of the responding participants, 70% reported that neighbors spend more time outdoors interacting with each other, and 85% said they enjoy walking their block more since joining the contest.
  • Out on the street, environmental stewardship comes in many forms—from communicating with neighbors to mentoring youth on the block, from gardeners cultivating plants and trees to stoop sitters with vigilant “eyes on the street.”
  • Contestants want more opportunities for Greenest Block folks to meet, share ideas, and mentor each other.
  • Gardeners are eager to link greening with social justice, such as through the creation of “neighborhood greening councils,” and they really want to influence NYC government on street greening issues.
  • Taking action is at the root: 69% of participants consider themselves more active as citizen or block leaders since their block joined the contest

Undoubtedly, gardening is a catalyst for action. Once people are connected, countless doors to democratic participation open as neighbors turn their collective minds to issues of housing equity, youth development, food access, climate change, and more. Facing major state and federal infrastructure projects post-Sandy, Coney Island Beautification Project’s president, Pamela Pettyjohn, told us that the contest emphasized that “you need to have a voice in your community. When you have community participation, you prevent years and years of mistakes.”

“What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts—adding, adding to, adding more…,” wrote Dr. Estes. At this crucial time, Brooklyn’s gardeners are uniquely positioned to lead the way forward. As each of us acts to mend the world around us, let us continue to join hands.

For more information on this study, please contact [email protected].

Nina Browne is the community program manager at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Michelle Gluck is resource educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess County.

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