Drew Gardens

Urban Forest

Located in the heart of the Bronx (the West Farms area), Drew Gardens is an excellent example of natural urban landscapes that provide various services for the environment and people. In my opinion, Drew Gardens is like a miniature biosphere reserve on the banks of the Bronx River, which contributes to wildlife conservation, local economy, environmental education, recreation, and hosts community events. The garden is supported by the Phipps Community Development Corporation (Phipps CDC), which builds affordable housing in the Bronx and Manhattan, and then serves communities around these houses in different ways. Today I was given a tour of the Drew Gardens by Jennifer Plewka who manages environmental and nutrition education programs in Phipps CDC, and coordinates activities in Drew Gardens.

The garden has three zones, all of which are maintained by volunteers, gardeners, and youth from education programs:

  • Urban forest, an area with local species of trees and bushes (see photo above). Trees retain stormwater runoff, and provide habitat for local and migrating animals, including birds and butterflies.
  • Community garden, which includes 50 raised beds with vegetables grown by people who were born in several countries (such as US, Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Mexico and Korea) and speak different languages.
  • Open-space area, which includes a lawn, ornamental plants, and a performance stage above the river for visitors and community events.

This unique combination of different natural areas, I think, is very educational because it shows relationship between and importance of different types of land use. Urban forest teaches to appreciate wild nature and demonstrates its ecosystem services (although some urban youth have negative feelings towards a forested area when they come to this garden for the first time). Community garden sends some of its produce to local farmers market, thus contributing to local economy and better nutrition. And public area invites people to meet each other and observe the nature. It is a huge advantage that this garden is on the banks of the Bronx River because it links this green area with other communities down- and upstream, and provides opportunity for learning about aquatic ecology, and about the city water drainage system. In the opinion of environmental educators in the Bronx, if people in cities learn to care about nature, they will care about it when they go elsewhere.

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