Rich with tropical plants, Flatbush’s E 25th St named Greenest Block in BK

Lined with lush front gardens, tropical flowers, manicured hedges, and leafy overhead trees, it’s clear why a block of Flatbush’s East 25th Street – between Clarendon Road and Avenue D – has been named this year’s Greenest Block in Brooklyn.

On Aug. 3, East 25th Street residents gathered on their block, alongside local officials, neighbors, and other gardening enthusiasts, to be celebrated as winners of the annual competition, run by Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

The Greenest Block in Brooklyn has been running for almost 30 years and is designed to promote city greening, streetscape gardening, tree stewardship, and, importantly, community building.

“We don’t take this lightly. Everyone that you see standing here played an integral role in where we are,” homeowner and 300 East 25th Street Block Association member Carol Reneau told the crowd. The title isn’t unfamiliar to the block association and residents: today’s win was the fifth time the block has been crowned victorious in the competition’s history.

Most recently, the block took home second place in 2022’s competition, tied for first place in 2021’s socially-distant edition, and was awarded the top prize in 2016.

Reneau said the greening of the Flatbush block was not just done for aesthetic and practical reasons, but as a way to build community amongst neighbors and those passing through. “We’ve shared many interactions, conversations, and exchanged ideas through greening,” she said.

“Greening has also helped us to understand the deeper connections and roles that pollinators, recycling, being a good tree steward, conservation, the temperature, air quality, and human beings have with each other. Lastly, greening has enabled us to put our differences aside and work towards a greater cause for future generations.”

Pauline Green, who moved to the block in 1995 and has helped fellow residents learn the art of gardening, said over the decades she’d lived there, the block’s residents had made it what it is. “It’s just a better way of life. I’m from Jamaica, I’m from St. Ann, the garden part. I have a green thumb, my last name is Green, so it’s in my DNA,” she smiled.

While Green’s garden is full of healthy foliage and grasses, something she said she prefers over blooms, the vibrant pink hibiscus steals the spotlight in her front yard. She said this year it was showing off, “it’s the first time it’s had so many blooms.” Overall, the theme for her garden this year was plants of the Caribbean.

Another local on the block, Julia Charles, said Caribbean plants were a common sight along the stretch of East 25th Street, and were an attractive selling point when she moved to the block from the Rockaways ten years ago. She said the block had a beautiful way of interweaving the Caribbean plants and New York natives, and that was largely thanks to the block’s gardening committee.

“They indoctrinate you honestly, when you come on the block it’s not if you’re gonna garden, it’s when you’re gonna garden and how soon,” she laughed.

“I think it’s beautiful. You know, it’s definitely a labor of love. It’s not based on how much money you could pay your landscaper. It is based on people really caring about the community, not just their personal homes, but the community at large.”

Brooklyn Botanic Garden president Adrian Benepe, who hosted the event, said the East 25th Street block topped the pool of 119 competitors, which spanned Brooklyn’s neighborhoods. “This is a championship team,” he said. “They know how to play ball.”

Benepe said the residents of East 25th Street clearly showed their protection and care of the block’s trees – evidenced by the lush overhead coverage, educational signs along the block, and trees at all stages of life – an element that was given special consideration with this year’s theme: “Power of Trees.”

Referencing the record breaking temperatures, Benepe said trees are essential in the fight against climate change. “They capture our pollution, the carbon, they absorb it and they store it until they die. And they cool – we’ve learned so much about the cooling power of trees.”

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso reiterated the importance of trees, and the role they have to play in achieving climate justice and positive health outcomes in Brooklyn’s neighborhoods. “On certain days, it is 10 degrees hotter in Brownsville than it is in Park Slope. So think about that, if it’s 90 degrees in Park Slope, and they’re struggling there, it’s closer to 100 in Brownsville,” he said.

Norine Medas of the Rockaway Parkway Merchant Association, which won the greenest block commercial category for its block of Rockaway Park between Conklin and Flatlands avenues, shared how community organizing has seen the planting of five trees on the Canarsie block. She said the association first entered in 2021 and was only able to enter one block because “there was only one tree between Farragut Road and Glenwood. This year, with the help of our community – this is a collective effort, we entered five blocks,” she said.

“The work that we are doing is for our children who we’re teaching, we’re changing the dynamic of what our children see, we want them to see life growing vibrantly in Canarsie. We want to thank our seniors who have worked tirelessly to allow us the opportunity to be able to live in Canarsie.”

garden at greenest block
The street is filled with lush gardens and plants, courtesy of its dedicated residents.Photo by Susan de Vries

East 25th Street residents took the crown from repeat winners, Crown Heights’ Preserving Lincoln’s Abundant Natural Treasures (P.L.A.N.T.), which spans Lincoln Place between New York and Nostrand Avenues. P.L.A.N.T won the competition in 2021 and 2022.

This year’s runner up for the Greenest Block was Crown Heights Keepers, a block of Eastern Parkway between Bedford and Franklin avenues. Benepe said the block was a “remarkable new role model” in that it wasn’t a block of private homes, but of large apartment buildings which residents had found creative ways to green.

Third place saw a tie between two Bed Stuy blocks: Stuyvesant Avenue Block Association, Stuyvesant Avenue between Bainbridge and Chauncey streets, and 200 Decatur Street/Stuyvesant Avenue Block Association, for the block of Decatur Street between Lewis and Stuyvesant avenues.

National Grid’s Leadership in Sustainability Award was awarded to The New East 26th Street Block Association in Flatbush, which spans East 26th Street between Clarendon Road and Avenue D, just one block over from the competition’s overall winners.

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