Voices of Niagara: Charles Harris, Project Green Space

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Charles Harris, Director, Project Green Space, interviewed on 10th April.  He and children from The Connection are developing an urban farm on a vacant lot on Weston Street, Niagara Falls, New York © Alan Gignoux

“My name is Charles Harris, I am a Youth Center Assistant at The Connection Center, an after school programme run by Planned Parenthood.  Being a Youth Center Assistant I work in the kitchen, I fund different type of activities and I’m the Director of Project Green Space.  Project Green Space is basically what you see right here, it’s when we take vacant lots and we turn them into community gardens, meditation circles, or we even turn them into places where we do sculpture art.

This spot is on 16th and Weston, it’s located at 1639 Weston where a house used to stand.  What we did was we aligned with different residents in the neighbourhood, and we decided that we wanted to beautify their environment, so we took one vacant lot and we flipped it around using teams from The Connection Center, which I hired through funding which I got from my ioby campaign, which was a grassroots campaign.  I hired those five teenagers and we created pathways, we created four raised beds by hand, and we have four more raised beds coming out here. We planted different types of vegetables out here, kohlrabi, we planted radishes, we planted tomatoes, all of this stuff is for the community’s use and they’ll be able to continue to use this throughout this year.

We chose to use raised beds because Niagara Falls has a history of what we call brown fields, if you’re well informed about the Love Canal that’s happened here years ago at Niagara Falls, the ground has been polluted and it has a bad history of being polluted and so we don’t choose to grow inside the ground, we choose to use raised beds so that our vegetation isn’t contaminated.

Niagara Falls is my city, I was born and raised here, I do take pride in my city, despite a lot of things that people may see on the news or may hear from word of mouth, there are still people who take pride in this city.  Just like any other city we do have our problems with vacant houses, which we call “zombie” houses.  Zombie houses are vacant houses that just sit and over time become dilapidated to the point where they either end up falling down or the administration decides that they have to be torn down. As you can see in the area that we chose, there’s at least probably about 6 zombie houses in this neighbourhood, where it just shows a big lack of investment by local politicians and by local government.  We don’t really have a say-so of when we can tear these houses down or what’s the next step, are they going to be revitalized,  but we do have a little bit of say-so on the foundation, where we can grow our fruit and vegetables.

When I see the future of Niagara Falls I’m very optimistic, we’ve got a lot of people that do care about Niagara Falls, a lot of residents here that are pushing in the right direction, I do see some positive things happening, like with this programme here.  Through the Resident Engagement Council, we’ve actually been taking a stand to fight against food deserts and to fight blight, so I do see Niagara Falls moving in a positive direction in the next 20 years.”

This is an extract.  The full interview will shortly be available on video on You Tube.

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