The vision: The restoration of the Kelly Street Garden began in 2011 as part of a larger affordable housing rehabilitation project. Before 2011, the 8,225 square-foot backyard space behind 916-928 Kelly Street was overgrown and littered with trash. A string of negligent landlords since the 1980s had allowed these four buildings (plus a fifth across the street at 935 Kelly Street) to accumulate over 2,000 housing code violations, landing them on NYC’s list of 200 worst buildings.

A new development partnership among Workforce Housing Group (WHG), Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, and Monadnock Construction acquired control of the buildings in 2011. The partners immediately saw an opportunity to transform the backyard into a community asset that residents could use to grow fresh produce in a neighborhood lacking healthy food sources and to help rebuild a sense of community on the block.

Building the garden: WHG and Banana Kelly collaborated with Grow NYC to design and implement the garden plan, which includes 11 raised beds with 1,150 square feet of growing space for edibles and a green stormwater management system that diverts the first inch of rainfall to tanks that irrigate the garden. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection provided funding for the green infrastructure and a $100,000 grant from TD Charitable Trust covered other garden costs. The new garden is a nod to the smaller community garden that once occupied the space in the 1970s, before the buildings deteriorated.

Adding indoor community space: The development partners saw yet another chance to turn part of the property into a community asset when deciding how best to use three basement apartments that open onto the garden space.  Banana Kelly supervises one of the apartments that residents use for Chef in the Kitchen workshops, community meetings, movie nights, and other events. Two on-site garden coordinators live in the second apartment and provide year-round garden and program support to residents. The third apartment will be used as a community-based art space in 2015.

Today: With infrastructure in place, Kelly Street residents are now writing the garden’s history since it opened in June 2014. Led by the Kelly Street Garden Committee, we’ve added our own flavor to the garden, creating murals, installing a composting system, and adding home-made sub-irrigated planters, low tunnels, and most recently, a greenhouse. The committee–with support from on-site garden coordinators, Workforce Housing Group, and Banana Kelly–is also leaving its mark on the community through programs and services that invite the Longwood/Hunts Point community to participate in the ongoing work of transforming Kelly Street.