You remember the advice at the end of Voltaire’s Candide? “Il faut cultiver ton jardin”? Increasing numbers of people are finding the advice to cultivate a garden a good idea for our times. But the implication of minding one’s own business is not part of it as people become more neighborly and create better communities through gardening.
“In 2002,” writes Katherine Gustafson at YES! Magazine, “two neighbors armed with spades and seeds changed everything for crime-addled Quesada Avenue in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point area.
“The street had been ground zero for the area’s drug trade and its attendant violence. But when Annette Smith and Karl Paige began planting flowers on a small section of the trash-filled median strip, Quesada Gardens Initiative was born. Over the course of the next decade, the community-enrichment project profoundly altered the face of this once-blighted neighborhood.
“Jeffrey Betcher is the initiative’s unlikely spokesperson. A gay white man driven to the majority-black area by the high cost of housing elsewhere, he moved into a house on Quesada Avenue in 1998 to find drug dealers selling from his front stoop and addicts sleeping beneath his stairs. He told me about the day that he returned home from work to discover that his neighbor Annette had planted a little corner of his yard.
“ ‘Even though there was a throng of people – drug dealers who were carrying guns, pretty scary folks – she had planted flowers on this little strip of dirt by my driveway,’ he told me. ‘I was so moved by that … I thought, that’s what life is about. That’s what community development is about. That’s what’s going to change this block faster than any public investment or outside strategy. And in fact it did.’ ” More here.
If you like this sort of thing, please read a little book called Seedfolks. You will love it.
Photograph: Katherine Gustafson