March 22, 2012
Reed Coughlan, with President Alan Davis, looking at a community garden for Somali Bantu refugees he was instrumental in creating.
SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Reed Coughlan, a mentor for SUNY Empire State College in Utica who works with students of social theory, structure and change, is a member of a group that has received $48,475 to design a community green space in downtown Utica. The grant from TKF Foundation was announced by Rust To Green Utica, an initiative designed to encourage faculty and students to work with local community partners in upstate New York toward sustainable urban development. Coughlan’s and his colleagues’ project, “One World Garden,” will be located on currently vacant city-owned land and galvanizes interested parties from Empire State College, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County, the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, Cornell University and the Ringling College of Art and Design.
The competitive grant funding was awarded by the Baltimore-based TKF Foundation through its “Open Spaces, Sacred Places” (OSSP) program to celebrate and illuminate Utica’s unique and changing blend of people and places created by both long-settled immigrants and a recent influx of refugees. The Utica project was selected as one of 11 to be funded from a field of more than 100 applicants nationwide.
The aim of the garden is to study, understand and communicate the effects that contact with nature plays in helping refugees cope with their transition experience, and the accompanying hardship and distress that often occurs. Researchers also will investigate the role that the garden plays in acknowledging and resolving differences, engendering dialogue, promoting understanding and encouraging community engagement and collaboration among current residents, and both new refugees and long-settled immigrants.
“In a time when we are more and more surrounded by the built world, beset by ever-increasing stress and overwhelmed by technology, the need for open and sacred places in nature is more important than ever,” said Tom Stoner, co-founder of the TKF Foundation. “People are often disconnected from others at the emotional and spiritual level, from the community that surrounds them and from the natural world that ultimately sustains them. Every neighborhood needs a place where people can be in nature and reconnect to themselves, to the land and to each other.”
The Rust to Green team’s funding will be used to conceptualize, plan and design a significant public green space. The construction of the garden will follow in the second phase of the project. During a one-year period, the OSSP team will host multiple community-input sessions and host a public open house to share the final design. Academic and artistic members of the team will use the garden as the setting for research, interviews, art installations and public events.
“’One World Garden’ will be a tangible expression of a community celebrating its immigrant story. For generations the people of Utica have created the space for new neighbors, refugees and immigrants to build new lives and discover new opportunities. The garden will be a place for the people of Utica to gather, experience our immigrant story and envision a shared future,” said Peter Vogelaar, executive director of the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. “Through its plantings, materials and design elements, the garden will give voice to Utica’s rich refugee and immigrant story. It will be a place to improve dialogue, understanding and partnership among diverse groups.”
The simple act of planting a garden can help unite neighborhoods around a common effort and inspire communities to find solutions to challenges facing the United States -- from hunger to environmental concerns, according to Paula Horrigan of Cornell University’s Landscape Design Department and co-founder of Rust To Green Utica. “We believe that we will be playing an active part in advancing dialogue, understanding and partnership among Utica’s diverse populations, while promoting a narrative of possibility, resilience, health and community,” she said.
The public is encouraged to participate in the feedback and design process. Contact Rust To Green at 607-255-1650 for more information.
About Rust to GreenIn 2009, five professors from Cornell University’s landscape architecture, education and natural resources departments created the Rust To Green New York State Initiative as an action-research and service-learning project to encourage faculty and students to work together with local community partners in upstate New York cities toward sustainable urban development. Rust To Green builds on the findings of a 2007 Brookings Institution report, “Restoring Prosperity: The State Role in Revitalizing America's Older Industrial Cities,” which – after an analysis of New York state’s older industrial cities -- determined that seven of them (Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Rochester, Schenectady, Syracuse and Utica) had “existing assets that, if fully leveraged, would serve as a platform for their renewal.” Overall, the study concluded, “The moment is ripe for the revival of older industrial urban economies.” Cornell University selected two of these cities, Utica and Binghamton, as the pilot sites. In February 2010 a dozen community stakeholders convened the first meeting of the Rust to Green Utica core team. By February 2012, this “smart network” included more than 150 members and organizations. www.rust2green.org/utica/ or www.facebook.com/R2GUtica
About the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for RefugeesThe mission of Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees is to promote the well-being of culturally diverse individuals and families by welcoming new neighbors, refugees and immigrants, and by providing individual and community-centered activities designed to create opportunity and facilitate understanding. www.mvrcr.org or https://www.facebook.com/MVRCR
About the TKF FoundationThe mission of the TKF Foundation is to provide the opportunity for a deeper human experience by inspiring and supporting the creation of public green spaces that offer temporary sanctuary, encourage reflection, provide solace and engender peace and well-being. TKF is a private, nonprofit organization that funds publicly accessible urban green space. The foundation promotes the idea that everyone needs to “be in nature” as nature both heals and unifies. The foundation partners with organizations to create “Open Spaces Sacred Places,” which enhance a sense of community and contribute to deepening human connections. These sacred places reawaken and reaffirm the powerful connection between nature, spirit and human well-being. www.opensacred.org or www.facebook.com/OpenSacred
About SUNY Empire State College
SUNY Empire State College was established in 1971 to offer adult learners the opportunity to earn associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the State University of New York.
The college serves more than 20,000 students worldwide at more than 35 locations in New York state and online. Its 63,000 alumni are active in their communities as entrepreneurs, politicians, business professionals, artists, nonprofit agency employees, teachers, veterans and active military, union members and more.
For additional information, visit www.esc.edu.
David M. Henahan, Director of Communications 518-587-2100, ext. 2918 David.Henahan@esc.edu
518-321-7038(after 5 p.m. and weekends)