Bushwick has had a rough time of it over the last 40 years or so... in the blackouts of '77 looting and fires ripped through the area, leaving ruined buildings and bombed out lots pockmarking an already depressed area plagued by arson and the drug trade. Abandonment, corruption, and crime took root, and commercial strips like Broadway and Knickerbocker Avenue were either half vacant or bloomed into open air drug markets. But in the last ten years city and state programs like the Bushwick Initiative, as well as the even stronger economic forces of gentrification have brought visible change to the neighborhood-- renovated housing, new businesses, fewer vacant lots.
This spring, a small but wonderful transformation of the streets occurred. Spurred by the organizing efforts of local gardening group Trees Not Trash, the MillionTreesNYC project actually excavated hundreds of pits on dozens of streets throughout the neighborhood, planting a variety of oak, linden, flowering cherry, maple, ginkgo, and other saplings. As I saw these young trees struggling to take root, I wondered how successful the experiment would be-- would they end up blighted, dried out in the summer sun, choked by trash, defiled by dogs, abused by kids unknowingly trampling their roots and pulling on their delicate branches?
But something so beautiful has been taking place over the course of the summer, when residents take to the streets and the blare of salsa mingles with the ice cream trucks and open hydrants form babbling brooks that rinse the baking gutters... all around the neighborhood little homemade fences have sprung up around the young trees, cobbled together from scrap wood scavenged from crates and old furniture and other mysterious sources. Some of the fences get painted and decorated, some surround lovingly planted flowers and trees and flags, some evolve over time. As I walk around the neighborhood, I find these crooked fences, these small acts of community ownership of living things to be incredibly heartening and endearing.