Ecological City Project

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CULTURAL ORGANIZING: COMMUNITY-BASED ARTS & ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION
Ecological City is a collaborative community-based arts and grassroots environmental action project to engage community and bring together a cohesive climate resiliency and ecological sustainability plan for the Lower East Side of New York City and its contribution to city and global climate challenges.

Ecological City applies Earth Celebrations’ pioneering creative community-engagement strategies, developed with the Save Our Gardens project 1991-2005 on the Lower East Side which utilized a collaborative community-based art project to build a grassroots coalition effort that lead to the preservation of hundreds of community gardens throughout New York City.

Ecological City will engage gardeners, river-based groups, community centers, schools, youth and residents through 9 months of workshops and collaborative planning meetings exploring the issues, plans and solutions for climate resiliency to mitigate flooding, pollution run-off and the future consequences of sea-level rise and ecological sustainability initiatives including bio-swales, water harvesting, green infrastructure, permeable walkways, green energy, community solar, local organic agriculture, carbon pricing, bio-degradable packaging, plastic free zones and waste reduction.

Through 3 months of creative workshops (mid-February mid-May) community participants work collaboratively with environmental experts and artists to develop visual art, giant puppets, costumes, performance, dance, music and poetry works addressing specific sites, plans and issues. These artistic works are featured in a culminating procession in May with site specific performances through the community gardens, neighborhood and East River Park waterfront.

The Advisory Committee and Partners includes: LUNGS (Loisaida Urban Neighborhood Gardens – representing 47 Lower East Side Gardens/member of NYCGC – New York City Garden Coalition), Green Map, Lower East Side Girls Club, GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side-Housing/Resiliency), LES Ready, Lower East Side Ecology, Solar One, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Loisaida Inc, University Settlement, Henry Street Settlement/Abrons Arts Center, The Earth School, Sixth Street Community Center, FAB (Fourth Street Arts Block Association), Hunter College-School of Community Organizing and NYU-Tisch Art and Public Policy Department. Numerous groups and residents throughout the neighborhood will be invited to join.

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EARTH CELEBRATIONS [EC], a not profit organization founded by artist and community organizer Felicia Young on the Lower East Side of New York City in1991 with a vision and mission to engage communities to generate ecological and social change through the arts, directs this neighborhood-wide collaboration. Ecological City applies our creative strategies developed for over 25 years, utilizing art, community-engagement, partnership building to impact issues including climate change, river restoration, waste management and the preservation of community gardens, parks, and a healthy urban environment.

COMMUNITY GARDENS: CLIMATE RESILIENCY & ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY

The community gardens had been created by local residents clearing out rubble strewn vacant lots that developed due to city neglect in the 70’s and 80’s. Residents over the next 20 years reclaimed these vacant lots to improve their neighborhood themselves that had become dens for crime, drugs and gangs, and cultivated over 500 city-owned lots throughout the city and over 50 on the Lower East Side. Residents planted trees, flowers and vegetable gardens. The gardens soon became a critical asset  which was more than vital open green space as they had grown into hubs of community life where neighbors of diverse backgrounds got to know one another served various functions as outdoor community and cultural centers, environmental science classrooms and health wellness centers that countered the crime and drugs while cultivating a positive and life affirming culture along with vital open green space.

In 1991, as the gardens came under increasing threat by development plans, Earth Celebrations launched the Procession to Save Our Gardens and built a creative grassroots coalition effort to preserve the community gardens. The effort began locally on the Lower East Side and then citywide when in 1996 Giuliani aimed to sell off and develop over 800 gardens throughout NYC. Earth Celebrations brought together gardeners from Harlem, Upper West Side, Bronx, and Brooklyn with the Lower East Side and the NYC Garden Preservation Coalition was formed (now NYCGC). Our united efforts and grassroots initiative that combined creativity and community-based arts with grassroots organizing led to preservation of hundreds of community gardens throughout NYC in 2002 when Bloomberg transferred nearly 200 to the Parks Department, where they remain temporarily protected.

After Hurricane Sandy when the Lower East Side and low-income community was devastated by flooding, the gardens that had been preserved were now seen in a new role towards climate resiliency and ecological sustainability of this urban neighborhood to reduce impacts of flooding, storm surges, pollution-run off with increasing frequency due to consequences of climate change. The gardens provided a natural system of permeable earth to absorb flood waters and trees to filter air, transforming carbon pollution to oxygen.

The gardens are also a boon to recent initiatives for New York City, Mayor de Blasio and his Office of Sustainability in commitments to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 and keeping a global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees celsius. The gardens connect residents and children in the city to environmental issues and sustainability through a direct visceral connection to the natural world, our water, air, earth, planet’s atmosphere and larger ecosystem and its importance mitigating local impacts of climate change and its connection and contribution to global climate challenges.

EARTH CELEBRATIONS [EC] based on the LES since 1991 directs this neighborhood-wide collaboration in partnership with gardeners, river-based groups, schools, community centers , artists, residents and youth applying our creative strategies developed over 25 years.

Earth Celebrations was founded as a not profit organization by artist and community organizer Felicia Young on the Lower East Side of New York City with a vision and mission to engage communities to generate ecological and social change through the arts. Ecological City applies our creative strategies developed for over 25 years, utilizing art, community-engagement, partnership building to impact issues including climate change, river restoration, waste management and the preservation of community gardens, parks, and a healthy urban environment.

EC’s Save Our Gardens project (1991-2005) was a 15 year large-scale collaborative art project that mobilized a local and citywide grassroots effort leading to the preservation of hundreds of community gardens on the Lower East Side and throughout New York City. Our Hudson River Restoration project (2009-2012) applied this creative model to engage community in the restoration efforts of the Hudson River estuary and revitalization of the waterfront in Downtown Manhattan. EC recently applied its creative strategies to a global context, initiating the Vaigai River Restoration Project (2014-2015) with an international and citywide collaborative art project and environmental action project that mobilized an on-going effort in the city of Madurai, South India to restore the river, in a severe crisis due to pollution, waste dumping, and the drying effects of climate change.

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CREATIVE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

9 months of community engagement planning/design sessions and workshops (9/2017-5/2018) engage gardeners, river-based groups, community centers, schools, youth and residents to collaborate with artists and environmental experts to develop visual art, giant puppets, costumes, performance, dance, music and poetry/spoken word works addressing climate resiliency and ecological sustainability plans, initiatives, issues, policies and solutions.

WORKSHOP SESSIONS are offered free of cost, Mid-February – Mid-May 2018 including 45 Ecological Art Workshops led by 2 Artists-in-Residence (puppet/sculpture & costume/fiber arts). 10 Artist and Community Partner collaborative projects with 100 workshop sessions in visual art (visual art, music, dance, performance and poetry/spoken word).

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WORKSHOPS CULMINATE IN PUBLIC THEATRICAL PAGEANT – PROCESSION WITH SITE PERFORMANCES

The artistic works are featured in a culminating procession with site specific performances through the community gardens, neighborhood and East River Park waterfront, bringing together a visceral experience, vision and collective action for a sustainable future for the Lower East Side, and its contribution to city and global climate challenges.

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PERFORMANCES EXPLORE CLIMATE RESILIENCY & ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY SITES, INITIATIVES, ISSUES, PLANS, POLICIES & SOLUTIONS
Partner organizations, schools and community service centers in collaboration with artists and environmental experts create performances featured at specific gardens, neighborhood and waterfront sites exploring climate resiliency initiatives and ecological sustainability issues and efforts.

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PERFORMANCES EXPLORE CLIMATE RESILIENCY & ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY SITES, INITIATIVES, ISSUES, PLANS, POLICIES & SOLUTIONS

Partner organizations, schools and community service centers in collaboration with artists and environmental experts create performances featured at specific gardens, neighborhood and waterfront sites exploring climate resiliency initiatives and ecological sustainability issues and efforts.

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ECOLOGICAL CITY aims to increase community engagement bringing together a cohesive climate resiliency plan including initiatives such as Gardens Rising, implementing green infrastructure and storm water capture systems within the 47 LES community gardens to increase permeability and mitigate effects of flooding which severely affected the neighborhood in Hurricane Sandy. The project also works in partnership with GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side) leading efforts on the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency project for the city. Their collected data is part of phase 1 which will be interpreted by community participants through the phase 2 creative engagement phase with the Ecological City pageant project.

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ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY initiatives and creative work will be developed exploring green energy, community solar, local organic agriculture, permaculture, butterfly gardens, composting, grey-water recycling, carbon pricing, bio-degradable packaging, plastic free zones, waste reduction and sustainable steward rewards initiatives. With the re-designed East River Park set to begin construction, the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, a comprehensive flood protection plan with proposals under review, along with housing redevelopment on the LES, it is a critical time for the community to reaffirm their vibrant culture, garden network, interests to remain residents and put forth and strengthen their grassroots urban model of climate resiliency and ecological sustainability.

ECOLOGICAL CITY – PROJECT TIMELINE:

• September 2016 – May 2017: Funding secured (several small grants have cycles that extend beyond these dates…) EC has been establishing community partnerships and an Advisory Committee for the development of the project.
• May 2017 – August 2017: Project production begins with partnership building and community- engagement through outreach presentations, public meetings, initial planning workshops. Open call for artists.
• September 2017 – October 2017: Selection of artists to lead a series of 60 workshops conducted from November 2017 – May 2018, engaging community participation in various arts/media to develop visual art and performance projects. Artist and Community Partner Collaborations will develop site-performances and visual art for the pageant.
• November 2017 – February 2018: Community-engaged design and planning workshops.
• March 2018 – May 2018: Art production through Ecological Art Workshop Series & Artist and Community Partner Collaborations.
• May 2018: Culminating Ecological City Pageant.

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Earth Celebrations cultural organizing (community-based arts and environmental action projects) have been extensively covered by local and international newspapers, TV news, radio, academic journals, books and film documentaries.

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SLIDE-VIDEO: EARTH CELEBRATIONS – OVER 25 YEARS OF CULTURAL ORGANIZING PROJECT TO GENERATE ECOLOGICAL & SOCIAL CHANGE

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Interview with Felicia Young, Founder/Executive Director of Earth Celebrations and director of the Ecological City project discusses 30 years of cultural organizing projects to generate ecological and social change.

http://culturalorganizing.org/art-is-a-basic-human-need-an-interview-with-felicia-young/