How radical gardeners took back New York City

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Seed bombs, the "tree lady of Brooklyn," and the roots of urban gardening. Subscribe and turn on notifications (🔔 ) so you don't miss any videos: New York City looked a lot different in the 1960s and 1970s. A sharp economic decline and white flight meant there was mass disinvestment and urban decay, particularly in the city’s lower-income neighborhoods. It’s what Hattie Carthan and Liz Christy noticed in their communities when they each set out to revive their neighborhoods by making them greener. Ultimately, their radical acts of gardening would transform the landscape across New York City. Have an idea for a story that we should investigate for Missing Chapter? Send it to us via this form! Sign up for the Missing Chapter newsletter to stay up to date with the series: Explore the full Missing Chapter playlist, including episodes, a creator Q&A, and more! Learn more about the Hattie Carthan Community Garden and Farmer’s Market: Learn more about the Liz Christy Garden: Learn more about Karen Washington’s work: Check out the Green Guerillas’ ongoing work: Learn more about the casita gardens across New York: Subscribe to our channel! is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out Watch our full video catalog: Follow Vox on Facebook: Or Twitter:

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Video Transcript:

[Music] recently i've come across a type of tick tock again and again it's people making something called seed bombs there are lots of recipes out there for them but i'm using part clay part soil and a pinch of seeds you roll them up let them dry and then you throw them usually at neglected patches of land in Hopes that after it rains your seed bombs turn into flowers but seed bombs like these aren't actually new in fact they're part of a long history of people transforming their communities through radical acts of gardening [Music] first centuries green spaces and cities have offered a way for people Living in close quarters to cultivate land and spend time in nature for new york city in the 1960s and 70s it was no different the city back then looked a lot different than it does today new york city had so many vacant lots i mean block after block after block that's karen washington who's been an urban gardener and farmer in new york since the 1980s abandoned buildings burnt out buildings To us to the side because the city at that time was going through a huge fiscal crisis a sharp economic decline coupled with white flight when people left the city for the suburbs meant there was mass disinvestment buildings were abandoned or left in disrepair especially in the city's lower income neighborhoods what was left was urban decay and Thousands of vacant lots one of those areas facing mass disinvestment in the 1960s and 70s was here in the bedford stuyvesant or bedstein neighborhood of brooklyn it's where in the 1960s a resident named hattie carthan noticed something bed-stuy didn't have enough trees usually trees dot the streets of new york city because the city has invested In planting them but bed-stuy was one of the city's most heavily redlined neighborhoods a racially discriminatory practice where mortgage lenders and insurance companies denied services to people in certain neighborhoods which pushed black people into specific areas redlining by its occurrence created the conditions for intolerable life Many redlined areas lack access to green space and have far fewer trees it isn't just an aesthetic problem research has shown trees offer improved air quality and cooler temperatures and it's part of the reason why as one study showed temperatures in redlined areas are approximately 2.6 degrees celsius warmer than in non-redlined areas In brooklyn after years of neglect hattie's neighborhood was losing its trees she wanted tree-lined blocks again so she set out to make it happen at first raising money within the neighborhood for her efforts was a huge obstacle she said there was no money there no inclination and i guess everybody felt i was too old but at 64 years old she was relentless Through her continued pressure she got the city to offer a tree matching program they'd give her six trees for every four planted she took the offer and as some of the only archival footage of hattie shows she got right to work hattie started a group called the tree corps enlisting local kids to join her her helpers have grown from three kids to Thirty now fanning out into bed's diet helped to bring living growing things back to their streets in less than a decade she led grassroots efforts to plant 1500 trees in bed-stuy patty did that work of cooling the cities of mitigating some of the effects of redlining hattie became known as the tree lady of brooklyn But her work transforming the community didn't end there in 1968 as part of a wave of redevelopment and urban renewal the city of new york was slated to demolish four abandoned brownstones in bedside along with the nearly century-old magnolia grandiflora tree towering outside them for two years hattie organized against the redevelopment project Until she was able to procure historical landmark status for the tree in fact it's the only living thing in the city still landmarked today saving the magnolia spiraled into a way to reclaim three of the brownstones too she convinced the city to sell them to her for twelve hundred dollars she turned the brownstones into the magnolia tree earth center a space for children to get environmental education Including horticultural workshops and lessons on how to care for and plant street trees it's a place where hattie's story continues to inspire generations of urban gardeners [Music] it was hattie's grassroots movement that changed what the community looks like around the same time another new york city woman took the idea of radical urban gardening To a new direction this time it started with a seed bomb in the lower east side at the time it was another neighborhood struggling with abandonment and disinvestment and in 1973 a local named liz christie was hoping to change it in the very beginning we were very radical that's dawn loggins one of liz's friends and fellow gardeners so we made these seed vibes we Go out in the evening and toss them over the fences and next year it was full of flowers like a little meadow they had no legal access to spaces but made it a mission to re-green unloved parts of the city they started to call themselves the green gorillas soon the group turned their attention to one vacant lot here on houston street she was walking By one day this lot and it was full of trash by like three four feet of trash she went back home called a bunch of us up and said uh we have a project you might like to work on the group spent a year removing trash and adding soil fencing and plants to take a space that was full of garbage and trash and green it was a radical concept back Then what originally happened was the city came in and said you know this is our property you can't use it as a garden in response liz called up the press and tried to get the word out about the green gorillas and eventually the city backed off in april 1974 the city office of housing preservation and development offered them a lease for one dollar a month To make it legal the green gorillas named it the bowery houston community farm and garden it became the first new york city approved community garden soon residents began planting vegetables hosting workshops and sharing knowledge with other gardeners the community gardening movement exploded people all across the city started Getting one dollar leases to turn abandoned lots into green spaces in their own communities by 1985 there were around a thousand gardens across the city puerto rican communities were also transforming abandoned lots too like ones here in the bronx they built gardens and casitas where they gathered for gardening music and community [Music] The gardens are so different we had people coming in from chinatown we had people coming in from tibet they got seeds from their family and they were growing they had plots they were growing vegetables that were native to wherever they're from [Music] but these spaces often tucked away right off busy streets also offer an oasis in the city and a place To reconnect with land people in marginalized communities took something that was devastating ugly and turned into something that was beautiful community gardens grow communities for the people to be run by the people for the benefit of the people [Music] after the explosion of community gardening in new york city there have been continuous threats to The spaces in 1999 mayor rudy giuliani put more than 100 gardens up for auction in hopes of bulldozing them and replacing them with housing but gardeners fought back and were able to preserve many of them today we're left with over 500 community gardens across new york city and together they make up over a hundred acres of public open space thanks to the work of Pioneers like hattie and liz these gardens still provide food community and connection for thousands you've got some red okra some cucumbers these are a little more i see hattie as a light everything that i created is in the name of hattie carthan yannette fleming runs the hatty carton community garden and hattie carfin urban farm and farmers market She uses the three acres of land to focus on food access and a place for youth to become invested in this work as soon as i wake up it feels like hattie's waiting for her work to continue so that her work will be told as a story of women who nurture communities of women who go beyond themselves To set the template for life to happen hattie and liz both passed away in 1984 and 1985 respectively but their work what started with small but radical acts can still be seen everywhere it's in the little patches of green that dot the entire city the trees that still stand the gardens that now bear their names and the people who continue their work there is that ongoing fear of erasure we might leave without our Stories being captured and told but we know that just like trees these works are deep and are lasting i don't know what the city is going to look like in you know in five years but i hope that there are still strong allies and still strong radical people to be around to preserve these these these spaces which are magical Thanks for watching this video it's the last in season two of missing chapter through our series on hidden histories we want to help people understand how our past connects to our present in this season we produced five episodes all across the u.s it took two dozen team members and five months to produce for our next season we want to cover international stories too we've been hearing from our viewers all Over the world and we want to expand our examination of the past our work takes a lot of resources but there's a way that you can help us dig into more forgotten histories if you're able to consider making a financial contribution to vox you can support our work at next dash chapter

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