‘The essence of resilience’: Crown Heights block named Greenest Block in Brooklyn

One of the many pieces of art installed on Lincoln Place, named the Greenest Block in Brooklyn on Aug. 10.
Photo by Susan De Vries

It’s official: Lincoln Place between New York and Nostrand Avenues in Crown Heights is the Greenest Block in Brooklyn.

The winner of the annual competition, hosted by Brooklyn Botanic Garden, was announced by BBG President Adrian Benepe in a press conference Wednesday morning, Aug. 10.

It is the second time in a row Crown Heights’ Preserving Lincoln’s Abundant Natural Treasures (P.L.A.N.T.) has won the borough-wide competition, coming in first place in 2019 — the last time the competition was held at full size, in-person. The pandemic forced a year off in 2020 and a “social distant” edition last year, where individual gardeners focused on their window boxes.

Borough President Antonio Reynoso and BBG President Adrian Benepe with some of the 2022 winners of the Greenest Block in Brooklyn.Photo by Susan De Vries

Benepe told the crowd of locals and supporters that the stretch of Lincoln Place was not only the greenest in Brooklyn, but “should just be the greenest block in New York City.”

“I can assure you there’s nothing like this in Manhattan. In Queens, maybe, maybe but I think Brooklyn’s got it. Brooklyn’s gardeners are the essence of resilience.”

The pandemic, Benepe said, had changed the streetscape of community gardening, especially for commercial blocks that faced numerous storefront vacancies.

“We’ve heard about the growing rat population that hampers outdoor gardening, access to gardening materials, rising construction, a lot of challenges, but who is not daunted by challenges? Gardeners. And who in particular? Brooklyn gardeners,” Benepe said to cheers from the crowd.

Perri Edwards in front of her garden.Photo by Susan De Vries
Neighbors Jonathan Marable and Jaime Joyeaux.Photo by Susan De Vries

For nearly 30 years, the annual contest has promoted city greening, streetscape gardening, street tree stewardship and community building. The contest supports communities in coming together to address issues unique to living in a densely populated urban environment.

This year, Benepe said 100 blocks from more than 20 neighborhoods entered the contest, including a high number of first time entries. The winners were selected by an expert panel of judges, including Brooklyn Botanic Garden staff and local horticulture professionals.

P.L.A.N.T.’s Lincoln Place block stood out from the crowd due to its creativity, stewardship of its plants and trees, focus on art and upcycling and its new mentorship program for the greening of other blocks, Benepe said.

And standing on the winning block under the early morning sun, it was clear to see why it had taken home the top prize — the group’s work was eye-catching, with drum kits, milk bottles, a stove, and many other upcycled items brimming with healthy herbs, perennials and annuals.

Lolita Alford was one of the participating artists.Photo by Susan De Vries

Much of the horticultural work on the block was spearheaded by P.L.A.N.T.’s leaders Althea Joseph and Perri Edwards. Joseph, who has lived on the block for more than a decade (and who also won the 2021 “social distant” competition for her window boxes) said having the competition back in-person and regaining the physical connection with neighbors was fulfilling.

“You see smiles, you see tears. Both Perri and I lost our moms — not to Covid, but within that span — and a lot of people came around the block and just said it is a healing place, it’s a place of peace. So we loved that we could be back into it and we could teach how to do what we do.”

Joseph said the event hadn’t been without its challenges, most notably the heat wave that has struck the city over the past weeks. Yesterday, she said, the group was out watering constantly from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.

A broken pot put to use as a fairy garden.Photo by Susan De Vries

“What we are happy for is that it is such camaraderie on the block, the neighbors let us just pop into the yard, grab their hose, add an adapter, make a 200 foot hose to water almost all of the neighbors on the block,” she said. She added that she and Edwards were almost like moms on the block who had lots of kids and never stopped cooking, but in this instance it was giving out plants, planters and gardening tips. “The neighbors are learning quickly.”

Edwards, who has been on the block for 35 years, added that the block’s gardening endeavors had strengthened the community bond. Now, she said, neighbors on the stretch of Lincoln Place largely all knew each other and had fostered a safe and beautiful block together.

“We noticed that during the pandemic, a lot of people came to the green space,” Edwards said. “They talked about how some of the relatives had passed, some came to meditate, some were crying. When we would come out to water, we met people that we didn’t know that had come to this neighborhood, to this block.”

Arthur Bates, who’s parents bought the house on the block in 1955 that he now lives in, said his mother would have loved to see the block winning the competition, as would his father. “My father was one of the founding members of the Lincoln Civic Block Association, he would absolutely love it. It is all about maintaining the beauty of the block. It’s not always about just property values. Because you’re not selling it, you’re living it,” he said.

Long-time Lincoln Place resident Arthur Bates on his stoop.Photo by Susan De Vries
Simone Pettaway and future gardener Langston on a neighbor’s stoop.Photo by Susan De Vries

This year’s runner up for the Greenest Block was Flatbush’s 300 East 25th Street block association (East 25th Street between Avenue D and Clarendon Road), who also placed runner up in the 2019 competition.

In third place it was a tie between Macon, MacDonough, Stuyvesant, Lewis Block Association for MacDonough between Lewis and Stuyvesant Avenues and Lefferts Garden Community Landscaping for Lefferts Avenue between Bedford and Rogers Avenues.

The Greenest Commercial Block in Brooklyn went to the North Flatbush Business Improvement District and the Leadership in Sustainability Award was awarded to Nehemiah 10, Green Thumb Block Association, which has installed solar panels to power garden tools and a sound system for community events.

Check out the full list of winners in all categories here.