New Public Space Dedicated in Morrisania (NYC)

Bronx, NY, 9/9/1999?: The successful revitalization of some of the most devastated neighborhoods in the Bronx is a movement that has largely been driven locally– by the residents, homeowners and business owners who never gave up hope. Such transformation in the Morrisania section of the borough is no exception.

Today, residents of 165th Street, non-profit partners, elected officials and nearby community members celebrated at the dedication of the new Jacquline Denise Davis Garden where children can play, neighbors can gather and area residents can look out on sunflowers rather than garbage. The site was formerly an abandoned lot, overwhelmed by rubbish and burdened by a vacant, charred building. The work to convert the site was done during a two-year participatory design and development project, through the Housing and Open Space Initiative (HOSI).

The HOSI program is a joint venture between the Trust for Public Land (TPL), the Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC) and the Enterprise Foundation to build upon the momentum of housing redevelopment by enhancing nearby open space in cooperation with local residents.

“There is a strong push in this community for economic development. A project like this, which includes new housing, public open space and, most importantly, community participation, provides the cornerstone for such development,” said Alban Calderon, Program Manager for TPL, a national, non-profit land conservation organization.

Residents of the Jacquline Denise Davis Court tenants association, who lived across the street from the lot deemed it a neighborhood eyesore and were intent on improving the area. “We saw a number of ways in which we could breathe life back into this community and we set about doing them,” said Audrey Davis, one of the community coordinators of the newly-established garden. “Without everyone pulling together, we never would have succeeded.”

Over the last decade, the Bronx has witnessed tremendous changes. From the ashes of burned out buildings and piles of rubbish, new housing, businesses, block associations and community centers have risen. “This block in Morisania is an excellent example of revitalization in the Bronx, with rehabilitated housing, new home ownership and now the garden,” said Julia Schneider, Senior Project Manager for the Enterprise Foundation, which helped fund the adjacent housing.

In 1997, following the rehabilitation of the 68-unit housing complex on 165th Street, Enterprise suggested that the residents come up with a proposal and apply for a HOSI grant. They did, and HOSI agreed to provide funding for the development of the site. The group set to work. While mapping out their designs for the 14,000 square foot lot, the group had to overcome a number of obstacles, not the least of which was getting the Fire Department to demolish and remove the abandoned building.

The site now houses a large community vegetable garden, a 24-foot by 12-foot cedar pavilion with stage and a brick barbecue picnic area. Volunteers from the community built flower and vegetable boxes, picnic tables and benches. Added enhancements also include a wishing well and an underground watering system.

Freda Hooper, garden coordinator, feels that much of the success of the garden comes from the support system of entire families. “This garden is a loving tribute to the memory of Jacquline Denise Davis, who, as a community activist, cared deeply for this neighborhood.”

“The Jacquline Denise Davis Garden greatly supports and enhances the revitalization work being done in the Morrisania comunity,” said Morrisania Revitalization Corporation President Hansel McGee.

The HOSI program was established in 1990 to address the need for usable open space in New York City. As a useful organizing tool for tenants of newly-renovated buildings, it also extends the positive impact of redevelopment in the community. Through HOSI, funds and human resources are made available through the partnership organizations to plan, design and construct open spaces in neighborhoods throughout New York City.

Funding for the Housing and Open Space Initiative is provided through the partnership organizations which raise the funds, in part, through donations from foundations. The Metropolitan Life Foundation is a major funder of HOSI and other TPL projects nationwide. Council on the Environment’s participation in HOSI is made possible by the Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Geoffrey C. Hughes Foundation and others.

Partners in HOSI projects offer much more than financial resources. On top of hundreds of man hours and sweat equity dedicated to each site, the representative organizations bring community organizing skills, technical expertise and years of experience establishing sites– all valuable assets which smaller neighborhood organizations benefit from.

Although partners and funders help provide the way, communities provide the will. “It is through pure determination and hard work that the residents of 165th Street transformed one of the largest vacant lots in the area into a garden that the entire neighborhood now benefits from,” said Gerard Lordahl, Director of the Plant-A-Lot Project of CENYC, a program partner which worked closely with residents in assembling tables and benches, and planting flowers, shrubs and trees.

The Plant-A-Lot Project has been providing technical and material support including site design, construction and maintenance for community-initiated projects since 1978. Since that same time, the Trust for Public Land’s New York City Program has helped gain permanent protection for over 300 acres of scarce city land, and has provided organizational, outreach, real estate and construction assistance to hundreds of community groups.

Three Housing and Open Space initiative sites have been dedicated this year–on West 159th Street in lower Washington Heights, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and now Morrisania in the Bronx.