MOTT HAVEN — An overgrown fenced-off lot in the South Bronx is on its way to becoming a community garden for neighborhood events ranging from barbecues to tenant association meetings.
The outdoor space at 331 E. 146th St. has been undergoing a transformation into a garden with planting beds, space for neighborhood gatherings and fresh vegetables for the community, a process that should be completed in the next few weeks, organizers say.
Kimberly George, executive director of Rebuilding Together NYC — one of the groups behind the effort along with Banana Kelly CIA, LISC NYC and Deutsche Bank — described the space as a "jungle" before volunteers and residents of the building got to work cleaning it up.
"It was completely unusable, overgrown," she said of the space. "People weren’t even allowed in there because there was so much debris and junk and community safety issues."
Wanda Swinney, president of the 331 E. 146th St. tenant association, agreed.
"It was just overbearing: trees that were dying, benches that were very old, big bees that were living in the benches," she said. "It was just dirty."
The lot and building are owned by Banana Kelly, and Harold DeRienzo, the organization's president, said the lot had not been maintained before because Banana Kelly does not have the staff to monitor the space itself and relies on an organized group of tenants to take responsibility for it.
Once residents make it clear that they are willing to do this, Banana Kelly will do whatever it can to help them, DeRienzo said.
"Until recently, we did not have an organized residents association in that building," he said.
Workers have since cleaned up debris including broken benches and weeds, smoothed out the land, put down mulch, built flower beds and planted flowers.
But the space is still a work in progress.
New benches and picnic tables need to be built, and members of the tenant association still need to do some actual gardening, according to George.
The space will be open to the neighborhood for events like cookouts, birthday parties and more.
"Maybe even a wedding," Swinney said. "Who knows things that could happen?"
George said she was thrilled that they had been able to find room for a new community garden, especially in a place as urban as New York City.
"Finding outdoor space is really tough," she said, "so being able to take this gigantic lot and turn it into a garden is really spectacular, and we’re really proud of it."
Swinney said she hopes the garden brings the community together and shows residents of the South Bronx that they have the ability to change and improve their neighborhoods.
"You can always make a difference, and I just want to be an example," she said. "I just want to encourage other people that you can do something totally different. You can be better."