Greenings from Harlem

By Tenusak, Kathryn | American Forests, Autumn 1995 | Go to article overview

Greenings from Harlem


Tenusak, Kathryn, American Forests


Bernadette Cozart and Dr. Barbara Barlow are proof that if people work together, anything is possible. Barlow, a pediatric surgeon at Harlem Hospital, was troubled by the lack of safe places in Harlem for children to play. Cozart, a gardener for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, wanted to do something about Harlem's lack of open space, trees, and gardens. They formed a coalition and together are turning Harlem's dangerous and neglected lots and playgrounds into greenspaces where children can play safely and communities can flourish.

Barlow started the Injury Prevention Program in 1988 because of the unusually high injury rate of children in the community. The program provides safe and creative activities including art, dance, and outdoor recreation. "Children need safe places to play," she says. "There was too little for them to do; after-school programs had closed due to lack of funding and all the play spaces were concrete and broken equipment."

Barlow went to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the Commissioner, and the Board of Education. With their help, she began working to fix up Harlem's playgrounds and parks.

Cozart was already working to involve Harlem residents in planting trees and gardens in local parks. It began when she was renovating the 16-acre Carl Schurz Park that surrounds the mayor's Gracey Mansion and she noticed a group of teenagers following her around. She decided to get them involved and put each of the nine kids to work creating his or her own flower garden. "They did a great job," she said. "I thought it would be a grand idea if they could do parks in their own neighborhoods."

Greenspaces in Harlem, she says, were so dangerous that the community did not even use them. "They were overrun by all the wrong elements," she says, "including drugs, crime, illegal dumping, lead paint, broken glass, and asbestos."

Later that year, Barlow and Cozart met at a community meeting called to discuss the future of Harlem's public spaces. They found they shared the same concerns and visions, and with permission from the city, they formed the Greening of Harlem coalition.

The Parks and Recreation Department allows Cozart to direct the program, but she must go outside the department for funding. Texaco Foundation pays for the children's gardens and the trees - at least one is planted in each playground and large garden - and a variety of foundations provide the rest of the funds. …

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