Natural Home Earth Mover: Laura Winter

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Darius Owens
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Laura Winter teaches gardening to children, including Shaunie Eubanks
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Domenic Eubanks

Laura Winter could have ignored the children who swarmed around her community garden plot in the midst of an urban neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s North Side. “Can I help you, Miss Laura?” they would ask.

“The children didn’t even have a place to dig here, let alone garden. They love to dig!” she says. Winter saw an opportunity to start another garden, the Green Millennium, and to give inner-city children ownership of the project. “We started planting in 2000, and the idea of working to ‘green’ the new millennium sounded just right,” she explains.

Winter got permission to clean up a vacant lot across from the community gardens, and with volunteers and funds from the Three Rivers Foundation, she built raised beds on top of the 25-by-100-foot plot’s concrete foundation. The team added two picnic tables, and the Western Pennsylvania Carpenter’s Apprenticeship Program provided two large wooden arbors with benches so the garden could become a gathering place as well.

Twenty or more local children, ages five to thirteen, participate in the program every year. The gardeners, who have grown everything from green zebra tomatoes to Rosa Bianca eggplant, meet Wednesday evenings to water, weed, or just observe changes in the garden. Laura sees the project as a tool to “provide these children with an optimistic sense of ownership in their community, to use nature as the educational medium in an unlikely urban setting, and in time give them the ‘permission’ to be leaders in their own right, less accepting of inequitable conditions in their communities and in their own lives.”

For next year, Winter dreams of a second plot, twice as many seeds, artwork, more tools, a trailer to carry tools, and a wheelchair-accessible garden. All of that requires funds, of course, but Winter and her team believe fundraising is empowering. “During a house tour of our neighborhood, we set the children up with lemonade and seed stands,” she says. “Once we coached them along, they rendered us obsolete as they turned into natural-born salesmen. Their excitement after raising nearly $300 was unequaled. When they returned to the garden the next week, there was no doubt as to who ‘owned’ the garden. It was theirs.”

Natural Home Earth Mover: Carolyn Geise

Carolyn Geise thinks the City of Seattle could use a good dictionary.

Nearly a decade ago, the architect discovered city planners had designated Vine Street, an eight-block stretch of Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, a “Green Street.” Only problem? No one could tell Geise exactly what that meant.

Geise’s firm, Geise Architects, had already renovated a 1914 factory at 81 Vine into a thriving structure that houses condominiums along with retail and office space. So she decided to serve as catalyst, pitchwoman, and mother hen, defining just what “Green Street” should mean. Through her organization, Growing Vine Street, she’s engaged the community in dialogue, conferences, fundraising ($2.7 million to date), open houses, and more. “Vine Street ends at Elliott Bay, so it seems logical to treat it as a watershed,” she explains. “Our community wants to collect rainwater in cisterns for fountains and use it to water plants. Why send precious water into storm drains? Instead, we want to connect all of Vine into a runnel with water filtered before it goes back into the bay.” Neighbors, local artists, designers, and architects have all gotten caught up in the project.

Their goal is to develop a design concept for the street, a series of guidelines that allow individual property owners to tap into their creativity. One of the main objectives is recycling rainwater, and Giese’s roof is a prime example. Rain is channeled through an artificial rooftop wetland contained in large, galvanized half-pipes. Other plans include a cascade of concrete cisterns down the street to direct water toward Elliott Bay, a series of steps and landings installed in the sidewalks to help people navigate a steep 15 percent slope, expansion of the P-Patch (a Seattle term for community garden), and integrated artwork including four water spouts.

Giese’s dreams for Vine Street are now taking baby steps toward reality. This spring, “Beckoning Cistern”–a galvanized aluminum collection system resembling an outstretched hand that was created by environmental sculptor Buster Simpson–made its debut at 81 Vine Street. Awaiting final funding is the Cistern Steps, a marshy, terraced walkway and watercourse. A half-block demonstration will run from the P-Patch, giving residents and skeptics a chance to eyeball the design. “It will help people get a grasp of what Vine Street can be,” Geise says. “The street should have an identity.”

It may take another decade before Vine Street takes on a true personality, but Geise believes change is inevitable. “Last night I brought in three big ferns from my home to the office and spent the evening in my front garden, digging, planting, watering, and trimming. Birds were chirping in the maple trees. Six people stopped by to talk to me,” she says. “It was heaven. We’ve created a habitat that wasn’t here before.”

And Seattle may finally have that elusive definition of a “Green Street.”

Published on Sep 1, 2003

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