I came to compost Eighth Street, not to praise it. Yes, I was there on Wednesday, when the gray expanse between Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West was named the “Greenest Block in Brooklyn” by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Up and down the block, I saw well-maintained tree beds. I gazed at beautiful window boxes. I inhaled the lush fragrance of begonias, impatiens and rugelach (oh, sorry, that was the refreshments table). I rolled around in mulch.
But there’s one problem with the Botanic Garden’s announcement: This ain’t the greenest block in Brooklyn.
Yes, there are beautiful sweet-potato-vine arrangements, but there are also filthy, exposed garbage cans. Yes, the tree pits look like the Ritz, but some houses have cement courtyards without so much as a drop of green paint.
Sorry to stick a green thumb in the eye of the borough’s horticultural elite, but calling Eighth Street between Prospect Park West and Eighth Avenue the “greenest block” is a decision that will tarnish the Brooklyn Botanic Garden worse than the High Court was damaged by Bush v. Gore.
Full disclosure: I visit this Eighth Street block all the time because my daughter is close friends with another 6-year-old on the block. Yet in all those visits, I never once leaned in close to my wife and said, “Boy, what a green block! I wish we could sell our apartment — at a loss, even! — to move to such verdant splendor.”
In fact, here’s an unscientific smattering of comments I solicited from people who actually know Brooklyn.
“That block? I know that block! No way is it the greenest,” said a friend of mine.
“Third Street between Eighth and the park, maybe. And a few of those blocks in Carroll Gardens. And don’t forget East 25th Street in Flatbush. All those blocks are greener.”
And one of our photographers, who’s been covering the greenest block contest since some of the trees at the Botanic Gardens were mere shrubs, only muttered, “Who are they kidding with this?”
That’s not to take anything away from the fine people of Eighth Street. On the block, I met Norman and Jane Fields Becker, who worked long hours to turn the 500 block into a winner.
Both Beckers were involved in teaching their neighbors what to plant and where best to plant it. They were front and center at the well-attended “Mulch and Wine” night on July 10 that served as a great evening of neighborhood bonding and sprucing up (on my block, we have a “Belch and Whine” night, which explains why we’ve never won anything except frequent parking summonses).
And the Beckers were smart enough to figure out how to game the system. Knowing that the Botanic Garden was putting new emphasis on proper tree beds, Eighth Street threw its resources into designing, building and maintaining theirs (on my block, the pits are the pits).
And their contagious energy also helped, because the Botanic Garden rewards blocks that have full participation.
But all of that good will and camaraderie can’t wipe the manure off my shoes: This is not the greenest block in Brooklyn.
Want to see a green block? Go to East 25th Street between Clarendon Road and Avenue D, which won in 2004 and 2006. The Botanic Garden bars blocks from repeating as winners in consecutive years, so East 25th Street could have (should have!) won this year. Several members of its block association were on Eighth Street on Wednesday to check out the competition.
You didn’t need a translator to hear that Marie Campbell, the “Green Queen of East 25th Street,” and her comrades in Armoracia were a little surprised to see what passes for a “Greenest Block” these days.
“I think they did a commendable job working with what they have here,” she said, surveying the yards and yards of exposed concrete. “And besides, you wouldn’t want the same block to win every year.”
You wouldn’t? Why not? Shouldn’t the best block win, even if it becomes a dynasty? Sure, everyone played nice at the Botanic Garden’s media event, but this reporter smelled something rotting.
“Our block really is better, you know,” said Carol Wilson, another one of the East 25th Street gardeners.
I know, Carol. I know.
Get your block on the green path by getting subsidized window boxes from the Botanic Garden. E-mail Susan Fields at [email protected] for info.