"Welcome to Canalfest," said Mayor Alice Roth of Tonawanda, New York. "You might not be able to see the park very well."
From the elevated tracks in the Corona section of Queens, passengers
on Number 7 trains bound for Flushing peer down into the schoolyard
of P.S. 19, New York City’s largest elementary school. Moored
to the asphalt are four temporary classroom buildings, painted
a background off-white with large, random dots of red, yellow,
blue, green, purple, and orange. The pavement, too, is painted
in colorful circles, some with planting beds in their centers.
Here and there are dumpsters the size of small school desks, about
waist high to a 10-year-old; the dumpsters are painted solid colors
and planted in petunias. Along the back side of the largest and
longest metal classroom, just inside the perimeter fence, a path
zigzags through a line of Bradford pear trees and leads to a little
flower garden near a corner of the schoolyard.
This land of the big dots and little dumpsters is called a
learning garden. It is the design of landscape architect Ken Smith, asla, whose client, the Robin Hood
Foundation of New York City, focuses on the city’s public schools. Among those
who helped Smith and the foundation bring the learning garden to maturity were
80 Timberland clothing company volunteers, down from New Hampshire for planting
on Earth Day 2003; volunteers from Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project;
members of the Audubon Society, which contributed birdhouses; and the staff of
Smith’s office in Manhattan. During three days of soil preparation in the
spring of 2003, Smith himself got his share of sore muscles.
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