The Quesada Gardens Initiative: taking a bite out of crime with plants
One of the most memorable sections of Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller The Tipping Point covers New York City’s reduction of violent crime by addressing petty offenses. Painting over graffiti immediately, cracking down on turnstile jumping, and beautifying run-down neighborhoods treated crime like an infection: focus on the conditions that caused an infection to take root initially, and, often, you don’t have to deal with any full-blown manifestations.
I couldn’t help but think of Gladwell’s metaphor when reading about the Quesada Gardens Initiative, a community organization in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point area. In 2002, Quesada Avenue was the neighborhood’s center for criminal activity: according to YES! magazine’s Katherine Gustafson, residents like Jeffrey Betcher often found “drug dealers selling from his front stoop and addicts sleeping beneath his stairs.” Two retirees on the block, Annette Smith and Karl Paige, decided to start planting flowers in 2002, and from this simple act, the Gardens Initiative was born.
Ten years later, the neighborhood’s experienced a transformation: gardening has become the activity that brings residents together. Nothing particularly magical about it: Betcher had a background in community organizing, and saw the potential in Smith and Paige’s decision to add a little beauty to the neighborhood. Bringing neighbors together to discuss possibilities for making the area more livable created its own tipping point. The Initiative now sponsors the creation and maintenance of green spaces, food production, public art projects, and “family friendly” neighborhood events, and Annette Smith is still at the center of activity.
In addition to beautifying the neighborhood, and making gardening more popular than dealing, the Quesada Garden Initiative has done a great job of documenting its own history: spend some time with their video collection and blog to get a better sense of the work they’re doing.
Know of other efforts in urban neighborhoods to fight crime with gardens? Let us know about them in the comments.
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