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Posts Tagged ‘neighborhood’

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Photo: Amy Sterling
Amy Sterling’s guerrilla-gardening campaign means tulips will be blooming in unexpected places come spring. You could do this in your neighborhood.

Boston Globe reporter Steve Annear gets all the fun stories. Here is one that John knew at once was made for this blog. I do love public-spirited projects that people organize just for the heck of it.

“Amy Sterling had tulips on the brain,” writes Annear. “After returning from a recent trip to Amsterdam, where she served on a panel about artificial intelligence, the Cambridge resident went to a home improvement store and picked up a bag of bulbs so she could plant the spring-blooming flowers in her yard.

“When she was finished gardening, Sterling and her husband, Will, realized they had about 50 bulbs left over. In a moment of spontaneity, they decided to bury them in random places around their neighborhood near Inman Square.

“Now Sterling wants others to do likewise and participate in this act of so-called ‘guerrilla gardening.’ …

“ ‘It’s just a way to cheer people up,’ Sterling said. ‘Get outside, it’s super nice out, go plant some stuff, and then sit back and relax — and when spring comes, you can enjoy the spoils.’ …

“After burying bulbs beneath public trees in Cambridge Sunday, she posted a picture of herself, shovel in hand, to the Boston Reddit page, as a way to spread some happiness, [and] others quickly latched on to the concept. …

“Sterling started calling around to Home Depot stores in the area, asking if they’d be willing to donate to the cause. In the days since sharing her impromptu project with others online, Sterling has collected hundreds of additional bulbs, she said. …

“Sterling said she chose tulips because they’re ‘a signifier of the death throes of winter’ and require very little maintenance. You dig a hole, plop the bulb in the ground, cover it up, and then just wait, she said. …

“She has also started a Google signup sheet for the ‘Boston Tulip Takeover,’ where people can get a free bag of tulips to plant around their neighborhood.

“ ‘We need some actions to bring us together,’ she said, noting that the news has been particularly hard to swallow lately. ‘And remind us that people are generally pretty nice and want to do well for their neighbors.’ ”

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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080517-never-enough-sunflowers

I love stories about people who get a good idea and just go do it. In this one by Deborah Allard at Fall River’s Herald News, a man who enjoys gardening is sharing beauty in his own way.

“Del Thurston examined the earth oblivious to the traffic rolling up and down busy Bedford Street.

“The drivers probably didn’t notice the gardener either, but it would be hard to miss the wall of yellow blooms that sprouted up this summer like a centerpiece in the middle of this cement-heavy city neighborhood.

“ ‘I wanted something to brighten up the corner,’ Thurston said.

“And, he found it in the form of sunflowers. The lemon queen variety flowers stretch across the front of the empty property on Bedford Street, and along the corner of Oak Grove Avenue. …

“A gardener who came to the literal field later in life, he approached the property owner in the spring and asked if he could plant sunflowers. With the go-ahead, Thurston nurtured the flowers from seedlings and has watched them stretch toward the sun all season long. …

“He said he used to drive by the vacant lot and noticed the raised flower beds on the property, formerly used by the YMCA.

“ ‘I would see these beds,’ Thurston said. ‘It had good soil. I’ve always wanted to try this with sunflowers. …

“ ‘I’ve met some absolutely phenomenal people in the neighborhood,’ he said

“The fat and happy bees seemed OK with his work, too. They buzzed around the blooms, paying no attention to the humans keeping watch on them, doing what bees do. …

“Gardening has become a favorite hobby for Thurston, who has been involved with the Bristol Community College community garden. … He said he started gardening when he was in his 50s, but Thurston’s knowledge of plants and seedlings seems more mature than a mere decade or so.

“He pointed to the center of the property where herbs and perennials, including sage, sprouted up on a mound of dirt.

“ ‘The rabbits jumped on my pineapple sage,’ he said, extending a leaf that emitted a nice scent of the fruit that bears its name. …

“ ‘This has been very empowering for me,’ Thurston said. ‘I like the positive feedback from the neighborhood.’ ”

More here. Hat tip: @FallRiverRising posted this on twitter.

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Upscale housing developers used to advertise tennis courts, pools, or golf courses as desirable amenities. Today they are increasingly likely to tout farmland.

Amy Hoak writes at MarketWatch about a family in suburban Chicago, where neighbors’ lawn chemicals have killed off pollinators. She reports that the Faheys are moving to a community that offers more opportunity for growing vegetables.

“Set in Hampshire, Ill., about 50 miles from downtown Chicago, Serosun Farms is a new home-conservation development, restoring wetlands, woodlands and prairie, and preserving farmland throughout. Already, the frog population has grown exponentially from the conservation work done onsite, and monarch butterflies are also on the rebound, said Jane Stickland, who is working on the project with her brother, developer John DeWald. Their efforts also are boosting the bee population. …

“Serosun plans to incorporate about 160 acres of working farmland, making farm-to-table a way of life for residents through regular farmer’s markets. The community also offers eight miles of trails, an equestrian center and fishing ponds: 75% of the development will be reserved for farming and open space. …

“The concept isn’t new, but ‘agrihoods’ are gaining in popularity, said Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow for the Urban Land Institute, an organization that focuses on land-use issues. He tracks about 200 agrihoods, where residential development coexists with farmland. …

“ ‘We started to realize you could cluster houses on a small portion of a farm and keep the farm working,’ he said. People were often drawn to the open spaces. More recently, however, there has been a huge interest in locally grown food. ‘All of a sudden, agrihoods have become a hot commodity in residential development,’ McMahon said.” More here.

This concept is not only for upscale developments. In urban neighborhoods without access to a local grocery or healthful food, affordable housing combined with community gardens and sales outlets are moving along without much fanfare. In Providence, for example, West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation‘s new Sankofa Apartments partner with the Sankofa Initiative, an outlet for homegrown food and handmade crafts from many countries. The initiative is satisfying to residents on a personal-development level and as a way to meet neighbors and build community.

Photo: J. Ashley Photography
Serenbe farmers’ market.

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Gaia Pianigiani wrote recently at the NY Times about an effort by new residents of a town in Italy to get to know neighbors through social media.

“When Laurell Boyers, 34, and her husband, Federico Bastiani, 37, moved in together in Bologna in 2012, they did not know any of their neighbors. It was a lonely feeling. …

“So Mr. Bastiani took a chance and posted a flier along his street, Via Fondazza, explaining that he had created a closed group on Facebook just for the people who lived there. He was merely looking to make some new friends.

“In three or four days, the group had about 20 followers. Almost two years later, the residents say, walking along Via Fondazza does not feel like strolling in a big city neighborhood anymore. Rather, it is more like exploring a small town, where everyone knows one another, as the group now has 1,100 members.

“The idea, Italy’s first ‘social street,’ has been such a success that it has caught on beyond Bologna and the narrow confines of Via Fondazza. There are 393 social streets in Europe, Brazil and New Zealand, inspired by Mr. Bastiani’s idea, according to the Social Street Italia website, which was created out of the Facebook group to help others replicate the project.”

The original meet-and-greet concept has evolved into neighbors helping neighbors in many ways.

“A few months back, Caterina Salvadori, a screenwriter and filmmaker who moved to Via Fondazza last March, posted on Facebook that her sink was clogged. Within five minutes, she said, she had three different messages.

“One neighbor offered a plunger, then another a more efficient plunger, and a third offered to unblock the sink himself. …

“Nothing comes at a cost in the Via Fondazza group. Some of the community’s facilities are donated, but most of the benefits stem from the members’ willingness to help, share and live better.” More here.

Photo: Nadia Shira Cohen/New York Times
Residents of Via Fondazza in Bologna, Italy, at a neighborhood bar. The street’s Facebook page has grown to 1,100 members.

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We’ve been speaking of public transit and well-planned cities of late. Here’s a story from the radio show Living on Earth about a Boston neighborhood that is fed up with streets built to keep cars and trucks happy and is demanding a more human focus.

“JAKE LUCAS: On a bright Tuesday morning, in Boston’s western neighborhood of Allston, a small group of locals with picket signs crowds onto a little wedge of concrete. They’re standing on Cambridge Street, right where a highway on-ramp splits off from the fiercely busy six-lane road that has been a sore point for years.

“HARRY MATTISON: Cambridge Street is a street that’s a crucial link in our neighborhood, and it’s also an incredibly unsafe, dangerous street.

“LUCAS: That’s Harry Mattison, a 31-year-old software developer who’s a longtime advocate for pedestrian and cyclist rights in the area. Since Cambridge Street was last redesigned 50 years ago, it’s been high on the list of residents’ complaints, and with good reason.

“Two pedestrians were killed here in the last two years. And one of those accidents happened just a few weeks before this rally, when a car hit a man as he tried to cross from the on-ramp to where the protesters are standing now.

“They’re holding signs with messages like ‘My kids walk here,’ and they’re demanding a safer Cambridge Street. Mattison has three kids, and laments not feeling safe on a street that cuts through the heart of his own neighborhood. …

“The city is already working on a short-term fix to make Cambridge Street safer. But in the long term, the transportation department has bigger plans. It’s going to bring the street into the modern day and transform it using the principles of what’s called a ‘complete street.’ Complete streets look different in different places, but the idea’s simple – make transportation systems about people, so there’s equal access for all forms of travel and all people.

“Boston’s Transportation Department has its own complete street guidelines. The head of policy and planning, Vineet Gupta, says that in Boston, every street redesign will include a handful of features from a menu of possibilities.

“GUPTA: Any street that’s going through a redesign process will have some elements of complete streets in it based on its size, based on what the community wants and based on where it’s located.

“LUCAS: In some places that’s as simple as narrowing the road by adding a bike lane. Projects with more room and better funding, like Cambridge Street, might also allow for things like new bike sharing stations, more trees along the street or smart parking meters that direct drivers to open spaces. The final design will be tailored toward the wants and needs of the people who use it.” More here.

Photo: Jake Lucas
Harry Mattison and residents of Boston’s Allston neighborhood march at the Rally for a Safer Cambridge Street on July 28, 2014.

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Ron Finley is a man of humble ambitions. He aims to save the planet, beginning with urban gardeners. I heard an interview with him on America’s Test Kitchen as I was driving home today.

From his website: “Let’s grow this seed of urban guerrilla gardening into a school of nourishment and change. Help spread his dream of edible gardens, one city at a time. …

“In part of this effort, Ron is planning to build an urban garden in South Central LA that will serve as an example of a well-balanced, fruit-and-veggie oasis – called ‘HQ.’ Inspired by the idea of turning unused space such as parkways and vacant lots into fruitful endeavors, this garden and gathering place will be a community hub, where people learn about nutrition and join together to plant, work and unwind. HQ will create a myriad of jobs for local residents, and this plot of land will be a self-sufficient ecosystem.”

It all started, according to Ron, when he “wanted a carrot without toxic ingredients I didn’t know how to spell.” He began to plant food near his house, on a strip by a road.

“The City of Los Angeles owns the ‘parkways,’ the neglected dirt areas next to roads where Ron was planting. He was cited for gardening without a permit.”

After Ron “started a petition with fellow green activists, demanding the right to garden and grow food in his neighborhood … the city backed off.” More here.

When asked on America’s Test Kitchen if his gardens were not just about obesity and healthful eating but also about making neighborhoods more livable, Ron said he wanted to do that for the whole planet.

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In the spirit of the Season, I thought I would share this community-building story from Boston. It shows what can happen when you give the gift of time. It started it out as a one-shot practical thing, shoveling out a neighbor who can’t do shoveling.

And then it grew.

Billy Baker writes at the Globe, “Michael Iceland showed up in front of a stranger’s house in West Roxbury, put his shovel into the snow, and made someone’s day.

“Inside the house was an older woman, and she was stuck, unable to get out of her door, worried she could not get to her mailbox to pay her bills.

“Iceland, 36, a Jamaica Plain resident, cleared that path for her, made a new friend, and felt great about himself in the process.

“It is a common story in the Snow Crew. The brainchild of Joseph Porcelli, the Snow Crew is an online tool to connect the elderly, the ill, and the disabled to people with willing backs. …

“The Snow Crew, Porcelli quickly realized, was about more than snow.

“ ‘Originally, I thought I was addressing a problem, that people needed to be shoveled out,’ he said. ‘It turns out that was a symptom of a larger problem of people not knowing each other and not being connected to their neighbors.’

“That small gesture, helping a stranger, made them no longer strangers. From it, many have reported developing ‘extremely profound relationships on both sides of the equation,’ said Dale Mitchell, executive director of Ethos, a nonprofit in West Roxbury that became a partner in the Snow Crew.”

I wonder what comparable community-building activity happens in places without snow. In spite of all the problems snow causes, I do love it, not least because a neighbor you hardly know may see you are stuck and come over with the snow blower.

More here.

Photo: Joanne Rathe/ Globe staff

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Jay Walljasper appeared recently in the Christian Science Monitor (by way of Shareable). Designated one of The Monitor‘s “change agents,” he has written about ways to build a sense of community in a book called The Great Neighborhood Book.

Walljasper believes that “providing people with ways to come together as friends, neighbors, and citizens creates a firm foundation that enables a neighborhood to solve problems and seize opportunities.

“The neighborhood is the basic building block of human civilization, whether in a big city, small town, or suburban community. It’s also the place where you can have the most influence in making a better world.”

Tips are provided here.

My own neighborhood has block parties on an annual basis. It hasn’t led to solving any major problems, although we did manage to get a rabid raccoon carted away not long ago. Even though most of us meet only once a year, I think we would help one anther if there was a disaster.

Pictures of Sunday’s convivial block party are below, followed by a photo of neighbors somewhere else actually working together on a project. That kind of collaboration probably produces deeper bonding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph below by Manuel Valdes/AP/File
Two volunteers hold the top of a spiral slide being installed at a neighborhood park in Kent, Wash., in 2011.

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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

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This is the time of year for walnut trees to bear fruit, for bees to bring in the last of the wine, and for block parties. Beacon Hill’s party is way more elaborate than any block party in Concord and is considered a time to raise funds for a cause. See if you can guess which party is which.

Orchard
by H. D.

I saw the first pear
as it fell—
the honey-seeking, golden-banded,
the yellow swarm
was not more fleet than I,
(spare us from loveliness)
and I fell prostrate
crying:
you have flayed us
with your blossoms,
spare us the beauty
of fruit-trees.

The honey-seeking
paused not,
the air thundered their song,
and I alone was prostrate.

O rough-hewn
god of the orchard,
I bring you an offering—
do you, alone unbeautiful,
son of the god,
spare us from loveliness:

these fallen hazel-nuts,
stripped late of their green sheaths,
grapes, red-purple,
their berries
dripping with wine,
pomegranates already broken,
and shrunken figs
and quinces untouched,
I bring you as offering.

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Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson has just published a book recounting his efforts to apply the principals of his discipline to improving urban life.

The book is called The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time, and it sounds cool.

Mark Oppenheimer writes in the NY Times:

“For years the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson paid little attention to Binghamton, N.Y., where he lived and taught. ‘I hadn’t joined the PTA,’ he writes, ‘attended council meetings, given blood, or served turkey to the homeless on Thanksgiving.’ …

Photographer: Jonathan Cohen

“Five years ago Mr. Wilson, the author of two popular books about Darwin, decided it would be fruitful to apply his training to the (human) animals closer to home. With colleagues at Binghamton University, Mr. Wilson founded the Binghamton Neighborhood Project to use evolutionary theory, along with data collection, to improve the quality of life in his struggling city.”

Although the work is still — evolving — the people he works with make interesting reading as do the experiments.

Oppenheinmer says that the “best chapters describe some of the preliminary work Mr. Wilson’s team has done. For example the Project gave a wide cross section of Binghamton schoolchildren the Development Assessment Profile, a survey that measures sociability, citizenship skills and the conditions that promote such traits. Students rated their agreement with statements like ‘I think it is important to help other people’ and ‘I tell the truth even when it is not easy.’

“The project then figured out where the most trusting, pro-social children lived: which neighborhoods, in other words, seemed to be breeding the most social capital. Using the technology on which Google Earth relies, the project created a krig map — a topographical map representing demographic data — for the city. The valleys showed areas with low social capital, the peaks with high.”

The results have implications for where community-building intiatives might have the most impact. Read the whole review here.

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