An Empty Lot Becomes A Park, Thanks to Mr. Peanut

A grassy field that was once the site of a demolished building in the Lillian Wald housing complex has been transformed into a park. Planters Grove, which was funded by the Planters company, opened earlier today with a ribbon cutting ceremony and a day of planting, mulching and peanut munching. Representatives from Planters handed out black top hats, one of which Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh donned during a speech praising the “greening of the New York City Housing Authority.”

The park’s centerpiece is a trellis (shaped like a peanut, naturally) that in the spring will hold clematis and climbing roses. “I like that it is kind of subtle and you can’t really tell it is a peanut,” said Lisbeth Shepherd, the founder and executive director of Green City Force, one of the two non-profits that worked with Planters and the New York City Housing Authority on the park’s construction. (The other was the national Corps Network.)

“It was our way of taking the idea for the park from Planters and making it local,” said Ken Smith, 58, the landscape architect who designed the park. Mr. Smith, who has also designed Planters-branded parks in New Orleans and Washington, D.C. (and more notably, the rooftop garden at the Museum of Modern Art) explained that the trellis was inspired by a Lillian Wald resident’s small vegetable plot, and the broomsticks he saw leaning against a wall there on his first visit. That plot is one of the “victory gardens” that residents of New York City public housing can purchase for $40 as part of a program launched in 1964. According to NYCHA Commissioner Margarita Lopez, there are now over 2,000 such gardens.

At the west end of Planters Grove, an underground irrigation system and boardwalk reduces flooding and helps water the plants. There is also an herb garden and plenty of room for flowers.

“This park reminds me that we are all connected,” said NYCHA Chairman John Rhea. “I’m really moved by the fact that it represents so many critical themes related to sustainability in public housing and that we are investing in youth and their work in the city.”

Volunteers from Green City Force between the ages of 18 and 24 (all of them residents of public housing) worked on the project for months. “We did everything from removing sod to today laying down the peat moss and fertilizer,” said Erika Symmonds, 30, the project manager for Green City. Lillian Wald residents also helped out: Gloria Rivera, 69, planted a spicebush earlier today.

“It was a mess before, but it’s beautiful now,” said William Laquna, 65, a school bus driver who has lived in the complex for 30 years. He was walking home on his way from the post office this morning and stopped to rest his elbows on the fence surrounding the garden. “There was grass and nothing else before,” he said. “Now we can see something out our windows.”