by Nikia Brown
“We desire to create a profitable, sustainable nursery that meets market demands and provides job opportunities” champions Deenah Loeb, Director of City Parks Association. In spring 2017, West Parkside is expected to have its first urban arboreta. Scott Quitell, founder of LandHealth Institute, describes an arboreta as a woody area with plants, trees, or a small pond. A befitting name for West Parkside- an area surrounded by greenery and open natural spaces. To date, many community members view open spaces in urban areas as danger zones or a waste of land space. Loeb strongly contends with this notion, calling vacant lands “areas of opportunity—not blight.” She envisions the natural space opposite Parkside Avenue as a green hub capable of generating rich natural and physical resources for community members and the neighborhood as a whole.
The project is titled, “Urban Arboreta—a native plant nursery and urban oasis.” Currently it is supported by individuals and organizations with a vested interested in empowering communities through land revitalization. The Fairmount Park Conservancy, a large stakeholder in this project, believes that “parks can be catalysts for positive change in the city.” Their mission statement follows, “We believe better parks make our individual lives healthier, our neighborhoods safer, and our region more competitive.” Perhaps it is with this same impetus that the Knight Foundation awarded the City Park Association with the initial funding to implement the project 13 months ago.
The project plan includes building a natural area that consists of a nursery, public space, farmer’s market, and tree farm. Sarah Endriss of LandHealth Institute is excited about the new endeavor and speaks of the wealth of value this could add to student and community engagement.
She sees the arboreta as a space that is able to engage students where they are academically and developmentally. “Elementary school students are at an age where they are in a curious wander about their surroundings; junior high school students are at the stage where they are expanding their knowledge of self and their environment; and high school students are at the level where they are able to reproduce their knowledge through project-based learning,” she explains. Loeb and Endriss view the arboreta as a multi-faceted vehicle that conjoins educational programming with land revitalization initiatives.
oth Loeb and Endriss understand that the success of this project largely relies on support from members of Parkside community. The first of several planned community meetings was held on Thursday, August 11 near the horse stables where the site is projected to be built. Though the meeting was lightly attended, the community members and stakeholders present were “passionate and knowledgeable about environmental issues as well as the community they reside within,” said Loeb.
She hopes that the community would see the value in this project and desire to “develop something that is unique to their community and benefit its members.” The retail aspect of the nursery will naturally provide job opportunities for community members and generate a flux of income into the neighborhood that previously did not exist. The next meeting regarding the project will be held at Discovery Charter School on Tuesday, September 13 at 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm. All community members are invited to attend, as your voice will significantly inform the way in which the arboreta is developed and leveraged for community benefit.