At 11:00 pm Thursday night I was coming back from the Nostrand Ave A-C stop and I stumbled across this unexpected and gorgeous little scene at the Dean North Community Garden (Dean between Franklin and Bedford). The photos don't even remotely do it justice. One of the caretakers, Greg, was setting up for a Halloween party that's taking place there from 6-8 pm tomorrow, and he has the place completely decked out: little orange lights, skeletons in the trees, a few legitimately scary fake heads lying around, and a big bad jack-o-lantern that his son must have spent hours on. Throw in the still, crisp air and the quiet of the space (it's tucked between two rows of brownstones, away from the avenues, so it's almost noiseless by Brooklyn standards) and there was a genuine magic about the place. Kids and adults alike are welcome, as Greg promises that the adults will relax in the garden once the trick-or-treaters move on for sweeter pastures.
Community gardens are one of a handful of institutions that require little more than local investment and can do an incredible amount of good in a community. They can act as parks, community centers, theaters, art galleries, produce markets, health classes, science labs, summer camps, senior centers, convict re-integration programs, dog runs . . . the list never ends. They have incredible power to bring people together--their status as oases of green betwixt concrete makes them both novel and enticing, the shared experience of growing food and caring for beautiful plants bonds participants like rubber cement, and the setting itself requires everyone to check a certain measure of identity, and thus difference, at the door (how many people are farmers or even full-time gardners anymore?). It'd be hard to measure their impact specifically, but spend some time in one and you can feel it without a doubt.
For those of us struggling with our status as gentrifiers, gardens are great places to meet dynamic, committed people who care about their communities and want us to do the same. We might not be able to reverse the trends our presence amplifies, but we can choose to know our neighbors and work with them to improve the space we share. If that sounds like a lot of work, remember how this post began: come to an awesome Halloween party!