About this time last year, Jersey City residents twice came together to demonstrate their love for the city and the communities in which they live: Once during the second annual Big Dig event and then again days later when Superstorm Sandy devastated the region.
The hurricane, and the flooding and power outages that followed in its wake, quickly overshadowed the work of the Jersey City Parks Coalition and the hundreds of volunteers who had planted thousands of flower bulbs throughout city parks and public spaces. That is, until spring came and those very same bulbs began to bloom, beautifying outdoor areas that had previously been lifeless and dull.
This weekend, the Jersey City Parks Coalition and 650 volunteers will once again fan out across the city to participate in the third annual Big Dig, a volunteer-run even that enables residents to plant donated flower bulbs in city parks and public spaces throughout the city.
This year the Big Dig will have a special focus: the beautification of the city’s senior homes and public housing projects.
‘The Big Dig is a very nice segue into public housing.’ – Laura Skolar
Two Girl Scout troops and students from Hudson County Community College, St. Peter’s University, and County Prep are among the volunteers who will participate.
At press time, the Jersey City Parks Coalition, with the help of its Big Dig volunteers, planned to plant about 65,000 daffodil and tulip bulbs at eight public housing sites and two senior housing developments on Saturday, Oct. 26.
“The larger sites, like Holland Gardens downtown, will get 15,525 bulbs, and Hudson Gardens will 12,900 bulbs,” Skolar said. “The smaller sites will get 2,500 bulbs up to 8,400 bulbs.”
The Parks Coalition was able to purchase the bulbs that will be planted this weekend thanks to a $10,000 donation from CarePoint Health, the largest donation the organization has received for the Big Dig to date, and a $5,000 donation from Spectra Energy. (CarePoint Health is the for-profit company that now owns and operates Christ Hospital in Jersey City, Hoboken University Medical Center, and Bayonne Medical Center.)
Other event sponsors include Liberty Science Center, which will host a luncheon for the volunteers, the city’s Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Department of Public Works, which, Skolar explained, helped prep the soil in which the bulbs will be planted.
“Some of that dirt is like concrete,” said Skolar.
Making a difference
The Big Dig, which was launched in 2011 and timed to coincide with the annual Make a Difference Day, was the brainchild of Parks Coalition Secretary Charlene Burke. Held on Oct. 22, 2011, the inaugural Big Dig would later be honored with the National Make a Difference Day Award by “USA Weekend Magazine.”
That year, approximately 18,000 tulip bulbs were planted by more than 600 volunteers at 76 sites throughout the city, according to Burke, who now serves as the Big Dig project manager each year.
Burke said she got the idea for the Big Dig in the spring of 2011 after watching a group of students plant a children’s garden at City Hall.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Wow, what a great event it is to beautify an area that otherwise is just a lawn’,” Burke told the Reporter in 2011. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had an event that really got people inspired about stepping up and caring for their local green space, be it a park, or a library, or a school, just an open area?’ I thought, ‘If the city works with us, we can do a citywide event that beautifies all of Jersey City’.”
Last year for the second annual Big Dig event, which was held Oct. 27, 2012, about 30,000 bulbs were planted at 80 sites throughout the city. Remarkably, the bulbs bloomed this past spring, despit being planted days before Hurricane Sandy.
Avid gardener and Parks Coalition Treasurer Marc Wesson selected tulips and daffodils as the bulbs to be planted because they are “naturalizing,” meaning that as long as the roots are in the ground, the plants will continue to multiply in the years to come, Skolar said.
Burke said that by planting in the fall the bulbs will have some protection from vandals during their early lives. The plants will break ground in the early spring, she said, when the weather is still cold and people aren’t outside much. The hope is that few residents will notice the young sprouts and thus won’t have a chance to sabotage their growth. If all goes well, the plants will flower next spring.
Oh, wouldn’t it be nice…
While the past two digs focused on city-owned parks and public spaces, this year the dig moves to city-run residential housing developments, thanks in part to a relayed message and a game of telephone.
After visiting several public housing projects last spring, activist Esther Wintner commented on how drab many of these developments looked and wondered in an interview about the toll the projects took on their residents.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go in and paint the doors some color other than brown and plant some flowers,” Wintner wondered.
Her suggestion was later relayed to Peter Basso, vice president of the Jersey City Parks Coalition.
“I think that’s a terrific idea,” Basso said when told of the suggestion, a proposal he took back to the coalition.
“Ooooooh, my goodness! And we thought Peter thought of that all on his own,” Skolar laughed when told the story.
No matter, Skolar said the senior and public housing focus is in keeping with the coalition’s mission.
“Senior houses and public housing can be a depressing situation. Although they have some trees and some lawn, the lawns that they do have are locked. But this works well with the Parks Coalition model because our whole philosophy is, if you get a neighborhood and the community involved in their park, and they take ownership of it, then they come to care for it, they come to treat it better, and they come to beautify it. So the Big Dig is a very nice segue into public housing.”
The Jersey City Parks Coalition, a coalition of 13 neighborhood park associations, has been beautifying various parks in the city since 2004. According to Burke, these park associations stepped up to adopt such parks as Van Vorst Park and Lincoln Park, and Pershing Field, and have maintained them for years at no cost to city taxpayers.
Inspired by the annual Big Dig event, Skolar said a few new parks groups have formed since the first dig in 2011.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.