GreenNYCHA and the New York City Housing Authority: 50 years of urban gardens

NYCHA Marcy Houses Garden

NYCHA resident garden at Marcy Houses

Spring is officially here, and it’s the perfect time to dive into that next gardening project, whether that means clearing away those winter blankets of mulch or breaking new ground to replace old concrete with fresh green space. If you need a little inspirational kick in the pants to motivate you, look no further than the . . . . New York City public housing developments? Surprising as it may seem, NYCHA properties across the five boroughs are becoming prime exemplars of the success of New York City’s urban gardening movement. This year residents are celebrating 50 years of the NYCHA Garden and Greening Program, a beautification and environmental education program that serves New York City Housing Authority residents and senior, community, and day care centers.

The NYCHA Garden and Greening Program grew out of the Citywide Resident Garden Competition initiated in 1962. What began as a simple Flower Garden competition has exploded to a program that now includes over 600 gardens in about 200 of NYCHA’s 334 developments. Vegetable and Theme Garden categories are also judged in the competition these days, and the program provides technical assistance, free seeds and flowering bulbs, as well as other gardening resources to resident gardeners across the city’s neighborhoods. (See 2011 NYCHA Garden and Greening Awards photos)

NYCHA Chairman John B. Rhea at NYCHA Garden and Greening Awards 2011

NYCHA Chairman John B. Rhea at NYCHA Garden and Greening Awards 2011

In addition to the personal satisfaction these brave gardeners glean from their magnificent feats of horticulture, the NYCHA planters also enjoy the sense of fulfillment that comes from creating neighborhoods their communities can be proud of. These triumphant gardens even caught Martha Stewart’s eye in 2010, when an article in At Home in the Garden acknowledged their commitment:

“They have lots of challenges: heavy shade; dry, compacted soil; litter; rats; pigeons . . . you name it. Sometimes they don’t even have convenient access to water. But they keep at it, year after year, gaining more knowledge with each season and always putting an unmistakable personal stamp on everything they do.” (By Stacey Hirvela | August 23, 2010)

NYCHA will be hosting many events this year to celebrate their 50th anniversary as urban gardening enthusiasts. They kicked the gardening season off on March 22nd with their 10th Annual NYCHA Grows with Its Gardeners Conference at James Weldon Johnson Community Center in Manhattan, where 500 resident gardeners attended workshops such as Worm Composting and Waste Prevention, Improving Your Soil Quality, Making Herbal Teas with Plants from the Garden, and Getting Children Involved in Gardening.

NYCHA Grows with Its Gardeners Conference 2012 Poster

So if you’re feeling lackadaisical when it comes to your own garden projects, take some inspiration from your neighbors at NYCHA. Two websites that can help spur your imagination and get your gardening juices flowing are the galleries at GreenNYCHA and the NYCHA Garden Program.


About Alex Holt

I am a local artist from Brooklyn, NY. I love art, design, books, photography, gardening and blogging.
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