This article first appeared in Freshly Pressed.

A Miracle on Earth Day

On this 40th anniversary of Earth Day, I’m writing to you from what I consider to be an extraordinary slice of paradise… the cheerful park right next to our apartment complex that used to be called “the ugliest park in Manhattan.”

Less than one year ago, Luther Gulick Park was a grim, litter-filled eyesore.

Though it had enjoyed a heyday in the 1930s, years of economic decline left the park in a constant state of disrepair.  Benches and game tables were taken away to discourage certain untoward behaviors.  Empty pits marked the space where graceful trees had once stood, long since destroyed by an infestation of the Asian Longhorn Beetle.

I used to walk by the park every day on my way to bringing the kids to school and mutter “Cesspit!” under my breath.  Here’s a picture of the park last year:

While it may not be ready for Homes and Gardens quite yet, here’s what Luther Gulick Park looks like today:

So what happened?

For starters, a few intrepid souls in the neighborhood — Dave being the chief instigator, you won’t be surprised to learn if you’ve ever met my Energizer Bunny of a husband — got sick of people like me who kept right on complaining but never did anything about it.

They got lots of other people together to talk about it.  Parents who wanted their kids to dig in the dirt.  Folks who knew something about which plants might grow there.  A web designer to build a site for the park.  Some parks officials.  A group of students studying urban design.

Before long, they had a movement.  Without any particular ties to the powers that be, they raised $460,000 from the city and state — a good chunk of the way towards building a true green oasis.  A concrete ping pong table may be arriving soon.  New benches, shade trees, refurbished handball and basketball courts.  All to be decided by the community.

In the meantime, tulips and daffodils, forsythia, magnolia and several evergreens bought at a nearby Home Depot have filled out the empty tree pits.  Elderly Chinese women practice Tai Chi here every morning.  Right now, a little boy is learning to ride his bike.

The experience has forced me to stop and think about bellyaching.  I prefer to think of myself as a doer, a person who loves to get involved in positive change.  (Hey – I even teach a course with “social change” in the title!)  But what are the areas where I do a lot of complaining?  Why do I do it?    How can I apply my own set of skills and interests to make a difference?  What’s the resistance?  It seems worthwhile to take a look.

I was also thinking recently about how planting trees is such a meaningful way to remember someone who has passed away.  We planted a graceful Japanese maple in my parents’ yard when my grandfather died.  Over 30 years later it still makes me think of him.

But what if I also thought about doing some planting to honor this life, while I’m still here?

Voila!  Here’s the crab apple tree that my son Drew (cheeky little devil!) and I planted in our park.  Happy Earth Day!

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41 Responses to “A Miracle on Earth Day”

  1. What an inspiration! Happy Earth Day.

  2. Wow,

    I live in south england and its quite rough where i live. Do you think ur hubby could come and sort out whitehawk (brighton, east sussex, England) lol.

    Looks gr8. all my best wishes x

  3. SallyK says:

    Wonderful! This appears to be happening in major cities all over and I think it’s just great. Keep up the good work – give your hubby and kids some extra special hugs! North Coast Muse @ http://sally1029.wordpress.com.

  4. David says:

    Earth Day 40 should be both a celebration of what we have accomplished and reminder of how much work we still need to do to bring our Mother Earth back into a healthy balance. We have today more awakened citizens of Earth who know their responsibility. We also have a powerful force for continued air pollution, poisoning of our waters, destruction of our natural environment, unforgivable killing of wild life, contamination of our food chain, obstructionism by powerful lobbies to prevent long term change because of short term profit and the list goes on. Every voice is needed for humanity to speak out as a Family to stop the insanity. Thank you for what you are doing today and in the future to awaken a sleeping public.

    Keep up the important work!

  5. Sherry Rampersaud says:

    wow very sweet. Thanks for “sherr-ing” ;)
    for some reason I see you living for more then just a year, you’ve got more to give and teach.

    sending you my love.

    warmly,
    Sherry from Toronto, Canada

  6. nduff says:

    Wow, that’s an incredible transformation!!! Some of the best change happens because someone got sick of others (or themselves) walking by saying, “someone should do something about this.” That’s going to be such a great addition to your neighborhood.

  7. Hello!
    I love your stories, and I would like congratulate everybody involve on the restauration of the park. It’ is pay back always in these kind of volunteer.
    The beautiful view from a window, the nice walk around it, and teaching the children to care for the natural things, it will to honor their lives for ever.
    Sincerely
    Aurora del Pilar

  8. brelandkent says:

    Great Blog, Thanks for sharing :)

  9. Kris says:

    What an amazing story and read! And thankfully there still are people like your husband who get involved and get things changed! The flowers look beautiful!

  10. ramonakent says:

    We create our own miracles within ourselves by doing something that matters…

  11. farahnator says:

    That was a great post, great job. Happy Earth Day

    http://farahnator.wordpress.com

  12. Tracy says:

    great post for Earth day! can’t wait to see what they make of the little place.

    http://www.tracyzhangphoto.wordpress.com/

  13. that was really great and sweet!! I wish they would do the same things here :(
    happy earth day :)

  14. becky says:

    The park looks amazing! I might just have to check it out this weekend…

    Happy Earth Day!!

  15. apocalypsecakes says:

    It is a miracle. With parks like these, we’ll have to put off eating Global Warming Hot Apple Pie. http://apocalypsecakes.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/global-warming-hot-apple-pie/

  16. Thank you for sharing, truly every little action counts. I know a friend who has gone around throwing native wild flower seeds on the grass between highways in Canada and as a result the future will be even more beautiful.
    David
    http://www.TheWonderTechnique.com

  17. Goodie Girl says:

    Ahhh….a park just needs a little love and care! Kind of like the entire EARTH!

  18. izziedarling says:

    Actions always speak louder than words. Great post!

  19. Shows you how great a community can work together on a project such as cleaning up and re-energizing a local park.

    Great work! Manhattan is better looking now.

    Remain.Simple

  20. Thanks for sharing this story. I am sure people will appreciate and notice the difference.

  21. susan says:

    Mama Earth is smiling down on you and Dave. Look forward to seeing that little slice of heaven (and you!) tomorrow.

  22. Alchemist says:

    Thats great!!! Happy Earth Day!!!

  23. GHD says:

    Good post and I would like congratulate everybody involve on the restauration of the park.

  24. This is great. I love how creation transforms what man managed to make look so rank. I believe it was William Cowper who once said ‘God made the country, man made the town.’ Your pictures says that to me.

  25. John says:

    Nice Post,
    Let’s keep our planet green and stop global warmin

  26. John says:

    Happy earth day. Let’s use energy more wisely.

  27. Don says:

    Nice post,
    Your post inspires me to care our planet.

  28. GHD says:

    Thank you for sharing, truly every little action counts. I know a friend who has gone around throwing native wild flower seeds on the grass between highways.

    • Ooh we have wild flower seed bombs over here which you throw out of the window onto wasteland but I’ve never thought to stock them because I’ve never heard of anyone actually doing it. Thanks.

  29. GHD says:

    Thanks for sharing this great post.

  30. mrdsgarden says:

    I only wish more people would see beyond the litter and clean up.
    This is a sign what can be done if we only try.

  31. Barbara says:

    I want to thank you all so much for your kind words about our park. If you ever find yourself down on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, come enjoy it first-hand!

    And for all of the seekers among you, I share this little line from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

    “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

    May all of your days be Earth Days,
    Barbara

  32. Inspiring. Reminds me of those inspirational stories on Sesame Street about building playgrounds out of old tires in brooklyn. I’m glad you guys are actually DOING IT. Well done!

  33. What a great story, it has the makings of Hollywood about it and reminds me of Green Card’s urban gorillas planting trees in NYC!

    Over here in the UK I think we’re fortunate to have a pretty good spread of urban parks….it’s the urban areas encroaching on the wider green belt which are cause for concern. Maybe I’ll stop bellyaching too and try to start a movement where businesses are obliged to inhabit inner city office space before building newer, uglier, purpose built faceless blocks on the green belt.

    The cities lie empty while we lose more of the countryside – how ironic!

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Sally

  34. Happy Earth Day :!:
    Let’s make the world clean and beautiful.
    http://ahmadalikarim.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/earth-day/

  35. Dear Barbara, I love your writing style and the stories you weave. One more simple, inexpensive, and highly involving/impactful possibility: Build several 4′ x 8′ cold frames for veggies that can be shared among the families, and/or given to food shelters. Most people in the city lack the skill and experience. What a learning project. When you and “the crew” next come up I could show you how easy they are to construct. For each basic cold frame all you need is three 2″ x 8′ x 12″ high boards, four 12″ high 2″x2″ blocks (to strengthen the corners) and 36 of the 4″ long screws to put it all together. Fill with soil, amend soil as needed for what you are growing, get your seeds from a high quality organic seed company (my favorite is Turtle Tree Seeds in Copake, NY – a Biodynamic seed company that is also a philanthropic organization housing and caring for people with learning disabilities), and you’ll have the start of an amazing addition to your already amazing transformation.

  36. Traven says:

    We love your blog! It’s beautiful, gripping and your writing is so vivid.

    http://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/2010/05/a-year-to-live-making-a-difference-in-gulick-park.html#more-10433

    best,

    Traven

    • Barbara says:

      I must say, the feeling is mutual. The Lo-Down is fantastic model of the future of journalism — alive and thriving. Keep it coming! Barbara

  37. Barbara says:

    Wow – look at this creative way the Friends of Luther Gulick are trying to raise money for the outdoor ping pong table: http://kck.st/bQ5YL3

  38. unforgivens says:

    I found your site from the WordPress.com page which has several sites that are strong enough to make the page. Your site is wonderful and beautiful.

    Thanks.

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