Infrastructure Contest: Frederick Douglass Stride Toward Freedom Garden

Below is one of five top Infrastructure Projects, selected in our Strongest Infrastructure Project contest by a panel of Strong Towns staff and contributors. Read through this submission and the others, then vote for the strongest.

Find more information about this contest here, and be sure to tune into our ongoing conversation about infrastructure funding in America here.

Name of Project: Frederick Douglass Stride Toward Freedom Garden

Location: Brockton, MA

Submitted by: Project volunteer and leader, Lynn Smith

Type of project: Private

About the project: Trash and weeds. Complaints. "Brockton is a dump, everyone knows that." That’s how it started in 2013. Then a few volunteers got mad, joined up, cleaned out the trash, pulled the weeds. Then we uncovered raised beds. Then we invited the community to come and plant flowers. Someone said, Why is this street named after Frederick Douglass? So students did the research. We connected Frederick Douglass to our Cape Verde community through his work in New Bedford with shipbuilders who were free black men. Then we connected him to our Haitian community through his service as minister to Haiti. To Susan B. Anthony and the fight for women’s rights. To Daniel O’Connell, The Great Emancipator, and Irish Catholic rights. The Irish who helped purchase Douglass’ freedom.

Then someone wrote a grant, and we got funded, and we held a community conversation to talk about those common bonds that connect us as citizens through Frederick Douglass. Local artists created original art for the signs. The local vo-tech built the signs and installed them in the garden. Then volunteers from a local college added a relaxing patio in the design of a Civil War Quilt, because right down Douglass Avenue is a stop on the Underground Railroad where we hid slaves on their way north to freedom.

And then a carpenter built a pergola over the patio. And then we put white plastic chairs in the garden and everyone comes and moves them where they want to and sits and takes a book from our Little Free Library and relaxes. And in this gritty, tough, high crime, low income rock of a city that is Brockton, everyone loves their garden. Now folks come here to meet their neighbors and attend the annual clean-up, and the plant and seed swap, and Community Dining Out Night, and the Reading of Douglass’ “What is the 4th of July to the Slave” and the Ice Cream Sundae Social, and the History Holiday Lantern Tour of downtown. All funded by small donations and organized by neighbors who believe in Stone Soup – if we each bring just a little bit, we will have a feast - of bread, and roses.

That’s what our community garden is all about. That’s what the Frederick Douglass Neighborhood Association is all about. Strong town folks doing some pretty amazing things, one rock, one plant, one event, one abandoned block at a time.

(Images from Frederick Douglass Stride Toward Freedom Garden)


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