Mermaid Avenue blossomed into an outdoor classroom as students from across Coney Island planted daffodil bulbs in curb-side flower beds on Nov. 3 for the Sandy Commemorative Day of Service. The flowers are an attractive symbol of renewal as the neighborhood continues to recover from the devastating storm, but they also serve a practical purpose by soaking up rain water the next time a storm hits, said one organizer.
“The kids can literally get their hands dirty and reverse the damage that Sandy has done,” said Pamela Pettyjohn of the Coney Island Beautification Project. “They understand that when we fill up the beds, it helps with flood mitigation and that it’s helping the community. So this is a way for people to do something for themselves and to take ownership of their community.”
More than 200 people tilled soil between W. 24th and W. 37th streets, seeding 5,500 daffodil bulbs, said Pettyjohn. Locals from nearby businesses and homes picked up trowels and joined in the ceremony. Student groups from four different schools came out, and community members donated their time to teach kids about horticulture, composting, and storm resiliency. The event was chock full of valuable life lessons for students to soak up, said one volunteer.
“I think it’s great for them to learn about the environment and Sandy, but the most important thing is for them to learn to give back,” said Jose Gonzales, who was born and raised in Coney Island. “Just like the community members who gave their time to teach the kids and help them — exposing them to that is so important.”
Public space group New Yorkers for Parks donated the flowers as part of its “Daffodil Project” — which was founded as a living memorial to 9-11 — but the bulbs’ meaning has morphed into a symbol of resiliency among Coney Islanders.
“It seems these little daffodils have taken on a life of their own,” said Pettyjohn. “They’ve come to have a special meaning for us of hope and renewal. They’ve really brought everyone together.”
The event was the first of three cycles of street-scaping. Students will also plant pansies in the spring and indigenous plants in the summer. Once the planting process is complete, Pettyjohn plans to enter the most lush blocks into the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s “Greenest Block in Brooklyn” contest.