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Community gardens can help bring a neighborhood together after a disaster like flooding or fire.

Climate Change

Community Gardens Help To Heal Broken Neighborhoods

Community gardens can help bring a neighborhood together after a disaster like flooding or fire.

On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy devastated large parts of New York City and northern New Jersey. To mark the fifth anniversary of that event, Nature Sacred, part of the TKF Foundation, has released a documentary film that highlights how community gardens in the Far Rockaway section of Queens have helped residents recover from the destruction Sandy left behind. “It was like being in Armageddon out here,” says local resident Celeste Grimes.

Community garden in Queens

The mission statement for Nature Sacred is simple yet powerful:  “Sowing the seeds for a deeper understanding of the power of nature as a healing space for individuals and communities.”

The TKF Foundation was formed more than two decades ago by Tom and Kitty Stoner. During a visit to England they were impressed by an urban park in London that served as a place of refuge during the dark days of World War II.  Tom Stoner says, “When Kitty and I created the TKF Foundation and formulated its mission in 1996, we had no idea what the result would be.

“Today, we see that the idea of creating open, sacred places in nature, designed to provide an opportunity for a deeper human experience, has become compelling to a host of people across the spectrum: environmentalists, health care professionals, landscape designers, universities, corporate CEOs, local governments, and community activists, to name a few.”

“People have an innate need to connect with nature; and this need intensifies following crippling disasters,” said Keith Tidball, director of the disaster education network at Cornell University. “We are without a doubt experiencing more intense, major weather events and other sorts of cataclysmic activities,” he says.

Beginning in 2015, a team composed of social scientists from the US Forest Service, researchers from Cornell University, community members and organizers, landscape designers from Ecotone Building, and the TKF Foundation came together to restore and improve the community garden that was wiped away in Sandy’s wake. There was also a desire to study how the revival of that green space would influence the community’s recovery after the storm.

“When people come together around the shared love of a garden, a tree-lined street, or a neighborhood park, they steward not only that space, but also their relationships to one another — making them poised to organize around any number of issues impacting their community,” says Erika Svendsen, a research social scientist with the US Forest Service and a member of the team that worked to restore the Beach 41st Street community garden in Queens. A film by Stoneworth Studios in partnership with the TKF Foundation documented the garden restoration project and is now live for viewing on the internet.

The green infrastructure isn’t just nice to do, this is fundamentally important,” Tidball says. “If we ignore it, we do so at our own peril in terms of a community’s recovery long-term from a disaster.”

Tom and Kitty Stoner write, “We hope to demonstrate the essential importance of people having opportunities to experience high quality nature in the city. Further, we want to offer proof that investments in urban greening can be profitable for local communities and thereby compel decision makers, both public and private, to invest in bringing nature to individuals in our cities.”

“How can we strengthen our cities to persevere in the face of emergencies?” asks Nature Sacred on their website. “How do we build resilience in a ‘new normal’ of increased natural disasters? These are the topics being urgently explored by leaders, innovators and urban planners the world over.

“An answer is right in front of us and is one you may not immediately think of. While nature destroys, nature also heals — in lasting ways. This is a phenomenon backed by science, and one supported by community stories such as Queens.”

You can follow Tom and Kitty Stoner’s Open Voices blog or contact Nature Sacred directly to learn more about beginning a community garden/green space program in your own community.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.


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