Last May, when New York City workers were planting a tree on the traffic island in front of the salon where he’s employed, Victor Rueda asked them if he could contribute his own plants, including some sunflowers, to the small plot of land. They agreed. Ever since, Rueda has cultivated the garden as if it were his own, protecting the tall sunflowers from the recent hurricane by tying them with nylon thread to keep them from blowing over.
The tree planting effort is part of New York City’s Greenstreets program, launched in 1996 as a partnership between the Department of Parks & Recreation and the Department of Transportation. The citywide program’s goal is to convert paved, vacant traffic islands and medians into green spaces filled with shade trees, flowering trees, shrubs, and groundcover.
In April 2007, Mayor Bloomberg announced PlaNYC, a blueprint for New York City to attain sustainable growth and improve the quality of city life. PlaNYC includes a number of groundbreaking greening initiatives, including planting street trees in all possible locations, creating 800 new greenstreets, and reforesting 2,000 acres of parkland. Mayor Bloomberg has dedicated $391 million over ten years for these initiatives, and also funded an additional 156 staff and $4.6 million in new forestry and horticulture maintenance funds to support these greening efforts. The city’s plan did not include citizen gardeners like Rueda: he’s just doing it out of the goodness of his heart.