By Bernice Elizabeth Green
“When Brooklyn ‘greens’ it, it means it!” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams at the announcement of the winners of the 2015 Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest yesterday at a press conference on the champion residential block, Bainbridge Street between Malcolm X Boulevard and Stuyvesant Avenue.
Now in its 21st year, the Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest has become an anticipated annual opportunity for Brooklynites to work together to create a greener Brooklyn.
Presented by GreenBridge, the community environmental horticulture program of Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG), in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, the contest encourages members of block and merchants’ associations to vie for the coveted title of Greenest Block in Brooklyn.
“The Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest is a great legacy that I am proud to continue in our borough alongside Brooklyn Botanic Garden in getting Brooklynites closer with their neighbors and beautifying our communities along the way. Our winning blocks inspire residential and commercial property owners alike to show that more than a tree grows in Brooklyn; great gardens and healthy neighborhoods thrive here as well.”
As the borough’s legacy leader, Adams drew comparisons between Brooklyn and the mighty towering trees on the block, on which Brooklyn state Assemblywoman Annette Robinson and her family are long-time residents. The assemblywoman acknowledged the block’s local gardeners, past and present, and also applauded their work as a gift for the children and their futures. “I’m excited as a member of the Bainbridge Homeowners and Tenants Association. I am very proud of the block and association for winning the Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest presented by Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It is a most prestigious award that signifies that the residents take pride in their homes and community.”
In speaking of “the block leadership and the residents” who worked “diligently to achieve this recognition”, Robinson, also a legacy leader, credited past “gardeners” who grew “Bedford-Stuyvesant”, including the great Herbert Von King, whose name is attached to the neighborhood’s largest and arguably the most beloved public green space; and Gary Shuford, a longtime block association president who passed two years ago.
It appeared as though the entire Bainbridge (MXB & Stuyvesant block) family was present, including longtime residents Ms. Cecile Clarke and her friend Edith Williams, the Atwells of the real estate dynasty, Block Association President Sheldon Wright and dozens more. “We are thrilled!” said the Bainbridge Street Homeowners and Tenants Block Association. “But the real credit goes to Gary, who inspired us all with his vision and led by example with his ever-present overalls and the watering wagon. The rest of us have just been doing our best to pick up where he left off. Without Gary, Bainbridge Street would not be as strong or as beautiful as it is today.”
Our Time Press was privileged to speak to Mrs. Gary Shuford’s widow, Patricia H. Shuford, who returned to the block from her native home in Baltimore for the special homage to her late husband. She offered us an important historical postscript about her husband’s family and Brooklyn brownstone history: Mr. Shuford’s grandfather purchased the brownstone on the block in the late 1800’s. Mrs. Shuford sold the property earlier this year to the Matthews. She considers them extended family as the couple is keeping the building’s history alive.
Honorees in other categories included NYCHA’s Raymond V. Ingersoll Houses’ Garden of Eden in Fort Greene, winner of the National Grid Leadership in Sustainable Practices Award; and the top-winning commercial block, Fulton Street between South Portland Avenue and South Oxford Street.
For these annual awards, community members work together to cultivate window boxes, container plantings, front gardens, storefront greenery, street tree beds and more. Major sponsorship support for GreenBridge is provided by National Grid; Brooklyn Community Foundation provides leadership support to GreenBridge.
“At its heart, this contest is about the idea that neighborhood greening can strengthen communities and create committed environmental stewards,” said Scot Medbury, BBG President. “We continue to see a rise in the use of native plants, sustainable gardening techniques and green infrastructure, which go beyond beautification in benefitting neighborhoods.”
Bainbridge Street between Stuyvesant Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard has entered the Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest every year since 2004, and this is the first year it has won top place in the residential category. In the past 11 years, the block has earned many other accolades in the contest, including second-place nods in both the Greenest Residential Block category and the Best Street Tree Beds category in 2014.
“By planting, weeding, cleaning and connecting, the members of the Bainbridge Street Homeowners and Tenants Block Association have made their love for this community and for one another visible to residents and visitors alike,” said Council member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. (D-36).
This year, the contest welcomed nearly 200 Brooklyn blocks, encompassing 25 neighborhoods and an estimated 40,000 citizens. Said Nina Browne, GreenBridge programs manager, “The contest drew an increased number of commercial block entries and an outstanding array of storefronts, showing how business owners are seeing the benefits of greening their spaces. We’ve also seen a continual increase in awareness of sustainable gardening, including the proper use of compost and mulch in street tree beds, increased use of captured rainwater to water gardens, and an explosion in the use of native plants.”
Ken Daly, president of National Grid New York said, “National Grid has a long-standing partnership with BBG to provide environmental education for children and to encourage sustainability in our local communities. The National Grid Leadership in Sustainable Practices Award supports our commitment to stewardship and making a difference in the communities we serve. We are pleased to present this year’s award to Ingersoll Garden of Eden in Fort Greene for their work in integrating well-balanced sustainable practices, improving access to healthy fruits and vegetables, and engaging young people to help make a greener community”.
Since its inception in 1994, the Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest has encouraged greening activities on more than 1,600 Brooklyn blocks. Community involvement has grown steadily from 50 blocks in the first year to well over 200 blocks in recent years. It is estimated that more than 600,000 Brooklynites have participated in this borough-wide beautification and greening effort over the past 20 years.
Blocks are judged on a variety of criteria, including color and total visual effect, citizen participation, variety and suitability of plants, soil condition and use of mulch, street tree bed care and all-around best horticultural practices. A panel of nearly 20 judges, including journalists and professional horticulturists from Brooklyn Botanic Garden, visits and judges each contestant’s block from mid-June throughout July.
First prize is a $300 check each for the top residential and commercial block winners. All other finalists receive cash prizes ranging from $100 to $200. Best Window Box, Greenest Storefront, Best Street Tree Beds and Best Community Garden Streetscape winners receive cash prizes or gift certificates.
At the event, Borough President Adams said, “It’s a great block, great people, great gardeners, great trees”. And in the fall, Adams will host another great day for the Bainbridge block and other Greenest Block winners. A recognition ceremony will be held at Brooklyn Borough Hall where competition participants will receive a gift bag of fall bulbs and a certificate of recognition.