Garden of Happiness
This garden was built by community members in 1988 on three former city-owned lots. Its name refers to the hopes of area residents that it be a haven from the city streets and a source of pride for the community that surrounds it.
In the late 1980s, the lot was slated for development, but the project was abandoned when developers discovered that the land was embedded with bedrock. The lot began to accumulate garbage, and concerned community members built a fence around the lot and enlisted the help of Operation GreenThumb to clean up and develop the land.
The Garden of Happiness was developed under the auspices of Operation GreenThumb, a Parks initiative that aids the transformation of vacant city lots into community gardens. GreenThumb, which is funded largely by community-block grants from the federal Housing and Urban Development program, allowed Crotona-Mapes community members to purchase the plants, cleaning supplies, and garden tools necessary for the lot’s transformation. The Garden of Happiness was permanently assigned to Parks in 1998.
Since 1988, community members have used the Garden of Happiness as a neighborhood gathering spot. The garden participates in outreach projects with the New York Botanical Garden’s Bronx Green-Up program and the Trust for Public Land’s Neighborhood Open-Space Management program. The Garden has allocated one planting bed for the children of the neighborhood. A children’s mural represents their efforts.
For community residents, the Garden is more than a natural refuge; it is a focus of community activity and cultural exchange. Members of the garden have organized voter registration drives, census outreach programs, workshops on agriculture and soil testing, as well as food drives for the homeless. Working with the Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Mary Mitchell Center for Family and Youth, Garden of Happiness members plan to introduce a children’s mosaic and planting program. Plans are also in the works to install a small theater in the garden so that area residents can enjoy live performances.
As its Bronx neighborhood evolves, the Garden of Happiness continues to provide community members with a rallying point, a safe haven, and a source of neighborhood pride. Karen Washington, a member of the Garden Happiness, said of the community’s gardening activities: “What we have we should take pride in. And that’s what we’re trying to instill throughout the neighborhood.”