With its curved street, houses dotted along the block, and traffic racing through the area, finding parking at 3101 Kingsbridge Terrace is not always easy.
Keeping that in mind, who would give up valuable parking space simply to create a garden and playground? The Kingsbridge Heights Community Center would. And they did.
Last week, the center celebrated the opening of its new community garden and playground on what was formerly a nearly half-acre parking lot.
“It’s beautiful,” said Yeniset Estrella, who was part of the community center’s parent committee and is now in her first year as a board member. “It means the kids could explore, (teach) the little ones to love the Earth. You (are) teaching them to care, not to step on flowers.”
Estrella has been active with the center since her daughter — now 21 — was a toddler. What was once meant to be a place to store cars, now parents can use the location as a place to talk after dropping off their children, she said.
The garden is part of the community center’s effort not just to focus on wellness, but to create a peaceful space for the community.
“We also want to be sure we are creating a space for children with special needs (and) those who have been exposed to trauma to make sure they have a space that has privacy,” said Margaret Della, the center’s executive director.
The transformed parking lot also gives the center additional space, which Della said its needs. The center serves more than 4,500 families each year. The garden and playground provide a location where “kids can be kids,” providing a safe and open environment.
The outdoor setting also provides a relaxed setting to work for its children and young adult programming.
“We really want to make sure that everyone has access,” said William Littleton, the center’s director of development. “So, we’ve got disability access. We’ve got raised garden beds for people in wheelchairs to garden. Our sexual assault and violence abuse service now has an outdoor space to do therapy.”
The garden also is a way to foster a healthier eating lifestyle and better nutritional habits to the community, showing ways to prepare the items.
“We basically live in a food desert here,” said Lisa Lindvall, the center’s board chair. “It gives me a real thrill when I see kids who taste a real strawberry for the first time. Or, they pull a carrot up and they have no clue what is at the end of the green leaves.”
The center, which grows foods like kale, eggplant and squash, incorporates the harvest as part of the more than 400 meals it prepares for students each week, Littleton said.
Students and interns at the center along with community student service learning groups will maintain the eight rectangular-shaped planting beds.
Organizers also are looking into ideas on how to bring more community members into the community center, which could include planting plots, or yoga and tai chi classes, Della said.
The community center received a $65,000 grant from an anonymous donor for the project. They worked with the New York Restoration Project, a nonprofit that transforms open or underutilized areas into green spaces.
For access to the garden and playground, which sits behind a gate, community members should register through the center’s website. The address is KHCC-nyc.org/visit-our-garden.
While the community center’s staff no longer has use of the lot, there is still some parking available. Workers can park on the street, or a 10-minute walk away at the center’s second location at 295 W. 231st St.
For Estrella, the garden essentially means one thing — another sign the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center is truly interested in the area, and wants to do even more to help residents.