Providence, RI ~ The Clarke Florist zoning issue is on tonight's agenda for the Summit Neighborhood Association Annual Meeting, and to save paper, I am posting, for reference by the neighborhood and anyone else interested, an email I sent in October to the Preserve Hope Street group describing a range of possible uses for the greenhouses and buildings.
I subsequently also did a little library and internet research and found in the 1945 Providence City Directory that there has been a florist business there since 1883 (McCarron's) and that (according to Florists' Review July 1912) some of the greenhouses may have been erected in 1912. The roof may leak in the shop area, and the buildings may require too much repair, and we all need to realize that whatever happens should make financial sense to the current owner. But I hope a use or uses may be found for the Hope Street property, in the middle of a pedestrian-friendly residential neighborhood, that are consistent with the historical use of the Clarke Florist location.
For background, see Preserve Hope Street.
From: susan korte <email@example.com>
Subject: RI - Providence - Proposal to use the Clarke Florist Shop on Hope St as an Urban Agriculture/Recycling Education & Training Center
Date: October 27, 2010 9:32:50 AM EDT
To: firstname.lastname@example.org [and others]
This email is addressed to the ad hoc group Preserve Hope Street and copied to a number of potentially interested people -- political leaders, preservation leaders, educators, and leaders in urban agriculture and recycling education and training in Providence and Rhode Island. It concerns the future of an existing greenhouse at what has been the Clarke Florist Shop on Hope Street in Providence. I propose it be repurposed to be an Urban Agriculture/Recycling Education & Training Center for our city.
Please see the Preserve Hope Street website, www.preservehopestreet.org, which has background info on the property owned currently by Schartner Farms. I have not been involved in that group's formation, but I strongly support them in objecting to tearing down this building. I offer this proposal to focus discussion of how this unique property could be reused productively for our community. The greenhouse dates from 1892 [according to Preserve Hope Street] and is one of the last of many greenhouses in the city. This greenhouse has historical value that should be taken into consideration when the property use is changed.
The Providential Gardener would love to see this property used as an Urban Agriculture/Recycling Education & Training Center in a collaboration of the City of Providence and RIRRC with various associations and organizations mentioned below and students from RISD, Johnson & Wales, and Brown University (especially university programs, departments, and groups such as the Masters in Teaching program at Brown, the Sustainable Food Initiative at Brown, and the Environmental Lab (http://envstudies.brown.edu/), working with students at the nearby high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, and day care programs.
I can imagine many possibilities for this space, and perhaps you can think of others that you and/or your organization would like to implement. The greenhouse might be used for training in urban agriculture and lead to jobs related to horticulture, farming, landscaping, and nursery management. Nature study programs involving writing, journaling, and drawing are other possibilities for educational programs. The students could raise seedlings, herbs, and flowers for sale to the public in the shop, and they can grow vegetables for the food bank and/or winter farmers' market -- the shop could even be a mini farmers' market outpost for fresh fruits and vegetables -- perhaps a part of the Farm Fresh RI corner store initiative. What a wonderful opportunity for training young people to do work that directly meets the universal need for food!
Elementary students from Martin Luther King and Moses Brown, and even the preschoolers from the Mount Hope YMCA day care that is nearly across the street, could also visit and learn about growing food and flowers and about composting and recycling. It could possibly be an urban outpost for Future Farmers of America and 4-H, connecting city kids with rural kids and ways of life.
Also within a few blocks of Clarke Florist Shop are the Groden Center, which already runs a great program at the greenhouse in North Burial Ground (less than a mile away), the East Side YMCA, Vincent Brown Recreation Center, and the Mount Hope Learning Center with its after-school programs.
Problems abound, I'm sure, in bringing this vision to fruition, such as who will do this? and how to structure and fund a viable program that would enrich the education of children at all of these schools and provide wonderful volunteer opportunities as well as learning opportunities for nearby college students. Maybe the property is already committed to some other business purpose and it is too late to consider this plan. Maybe it Is necessary to buy the property (but who would do this?) Or could it be leased from Schartner Farms? Perhaps the building also needs major structural work -- I have no knowledge about this, but that could also be a show-stopper/slower. It will take time and resources, which are in such short supply these days. Of course whatever is done needs to make sense financially, but the social and environmental bottom lines for the use of this property with its greenhouse are obvious and impressive.
The groundwork is in place for making this a success. First and significantly, there are clearly many children in the area who could benefit. A map on the preservehopestreet.org website indicates there are about 1800 children attending institutions within a quarter mile of this greenhouse, not counting Moses Brown students. (See http://tinyurl.com/6a55tuv) They are within easy walking distance of this location. Rhode Islanders are very supportive of environmental education programs; we understand that exposing young people to horticulture and gardening and composting/recycling is a vital dimension of education. And there are many potential sources of assistance that may jump at the chance to participate in this project and make it a success.
Additionally, this proposal is in line with city policy and planning, in particular, The City of Providence Greenprint (http://providenceri.com/greenprint/greenprint.pdf) in 2008, which includes several relevant initiatives:
- Public Space initiative 1, Expand Parks and Community Gardens;
- Recycling & Waste Management Initiative 7, Pilot a Composting Program;
- Community Initiative 2, Increase Recycling Awareness; and
- Community Initiative 5, Increase Community Involvement in Sustainability Practices.
"As Providence continues to develop, the City must find ways to maintain green, open spaces. Urban parks offer citizens environmental, social, economic, and health benefits; community gardens and urban agriculture build community, foster cultural identity and connections, engage residents in the stewardship of land, and provide affordable produce; and city trees moderate climate, increase property values, improve air quality, conserve water, and harbor wildlife." Providence Greenprint, p. 20
I believe that Angel Taveras would be very supportive, as mayor, of this project. See his Environmental Plan, which emphasizes composting and turning abandoned city lots (and perhaps by extension some abandoned buildings like greenhouses) into community gardens. (http://angelforprovidence.com/en/press-room/47-press-releases/171--angel-taveras-celebrates-earth-day-by-announcing-5-point-environmental-plan.html). I have copied him and one of his staff, Adam Roach, on this email also.
Southside Community Land Trust and The Urban Agriculture Task Force have been laying the groundwork for increasing opportunities to garden within the city for several years. See Urban Agriculture: A New Approach to Development in Providence (http://www.farmfreshri.org/learn/docs/urbanag-approach.pdf). Relevant quotes:
"SCLT’s City Farm is typical of non-profit agricultural projects at the core of economic and community development projects in other low-income American cities. These projects’ goals are to use agriculture to generate jobs, create value in the community, teach youth new skills, prevent urban ills from reaching children, and improve the quality of the local environment....
"Exploration into the effect of urban agriculture on cities like Providence clearly demonstrates that agriculture can be a useful tool in the redevelopment strategies of lower-income urban neighborhoods, providing youth involvement, job skills, employment, better food, environmental improvements, increases in property values, and a better quality of life." (Urban Agriculture: A New Approach, pp. 8-9)
The Master Gardeners are setting up demonstration gardens to encourage home gardening at Roger Williams Park Botanical Center on the south side of the city, and there is a strong interest among the Master Gardeners in volunteering there. They also have expertise in greenhouse management, but the greenhouse management opportunities are currently mainly on the Kingston campus at URI. A greenhouse project on the north side of Providence would be an attractive volunteer opportunity for Master Gardeners living in the Providence area and to the north.
Other potential sources of know-how include Groundwork Providence, Environmental Justice League, RI Environmental Education Association, Farm Fresh RI, Children's Garden Network, Kids First, Apeiron Institute, RhodyAg.com, RI Nursery & Landscape Association, Ri Federation of Garden Clubs, and the multitude of community gardeners in the city. Some plant societies (New England Carnivorous Plant Society, Begonia Society, and the Orchid Societies) and Amos House might be interested in this as well. If the coffee shop idea is inevitable, it might become a second Friendship Cafe location, and with the vegetable/flower/herb dimension and educational dimension of the working greenhouse, it would be distinctive and appealing to the larger community.
Despite the poor economy, it may be possible to raise the necessary funds for such a program if a well-thought-out plan is developed by a coalition of some or all of the above-mentioned groups who would express their commitment to the establishment and ongoing running of the program.
So folks! Here is a vintage greenhouse easily accessible to about 2,000+ children, with nearby volunteer-minded college students interested in urban agriculture, horticulture and recycling/composting, plus lots of organized adults nearby with a strong love of gardening, farming, recycling/composting committed to growing food locally and developing green jobs. I've thrown out a wide range of possible program ideas and I'm sure if we got together we could brainstorm and come up with many more from which to choose, so we can create a practical, focused and attractive program for this building that could even contribute to its own support.
I am a resident of Providence living within a mile of this greenhouse, and I would be glad to initiate exploratory discussions to see if such a project would have enough community support to go forward. I hope preliminary discussion may identify some existing organizations that would want to take the lead to make this a reality.
Please forward this to others and let Preserve Hope Street and/or me know of your interest so we can move this dream a step forward. Providential Gardener is well connected across the full spectrum of environment-related activity in Rhode Island and will be delighted to facilitate collaboration in every way.
The Providential Gardener
PO Box 2556
Providence, RI 02906
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