Small garden signs will be popping up across Jamestown this month. You'll see them nestled in flower beds and planter boxes from Hotchkiss Street to Hallock Street and from West Virginia Boulevard to West 18th Street.
The signs will be distributed as part of the GROW Jamestown Front Garden Recognition Program, now in its fourth year. Over 60 volunteers will be working with the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation through the end of July to survey every city street and deliver signs to gardens that are colorful, well-tended and set a high standard for their corner of Jamestown.
Around 350 signs were distributed in 2013. That number is expected to grow this year as the comprehensive canvassing system replaces a public nominating procedure used during the program's first three years. By the end of the month, you're likely to see signs from all four years proudly displayed in several of the city's best gardens.
The signs are simple and so is the program's purpose. By recognizing gardens that contribute to the beauty of city streets, we encourage Jamestown's most active gardeners to keep up the good work while giving aspiring gardeners inspiration and a goal. It's a technique used in cities across the country and it's part of the JRC's effort to help revitalize neighborhoods through activities that promote curb appeal and community engagement.
The enthusiasm of the program's volunteers and the growing interest around gardening in Jamestown also says something about the power of gardening as a tool for building a stronger and more resilient city - and about the multi-faceted impact of a well-tended flower bed.
For example, it's increasingly clear that gardening has a collective impact despite being a largely solitary activity. A nice garden satisfies the green thumb of an individual gardener and serves as an expression of their particular tastes, but it also contributes to a healthier neighborhood by cultivating a shared sense of improvement. By indicating that people care about where they live, gardens send signals that spur greater investments by neighboring property owners and boost the desirability of homes on an entire block.
It's also clear that people are using gardening and garden gazing as a fun way to experience city life and communicate with neighbors. Complimenting a gardener is a good way to start a conversation with a neighbor you've never spoken to, and taking a walk to spy on the handiwork of other gardeners is a good way to notice details about a neighborhood that are impossible to glean from a car. Almost everyone can be engaged in this activity at some level, from the appreciative observer to the veteran gardener.
And it's the accessibility of gardening that provides its most lasting civic benefit. When a homeowner or renter can feel that their efforts are having an impact that spreads beyond their property, it contributes to a culture where people feel empowered to transform their city into a better place. That attitude translates beyond gardening to every other aspect of community life.
As signs pop up over the next few weeks, go for a walk in your neighborhood and see the difference that individuals are making every day in their own slice of Jamestown. And look forward to photos and project updates at www.jamestownrenaissance.org and on Facebook at jrc14701.
Renaissance Reflections is a biweekly feature with news and views from the front lines of Jamestown's revitalization.