Community center, garden reopen in Morrisania

Altice USA volunteers clear weeds from planters to make way for new flora during a community garden revitalization project behind The Bronx Social Center.

After years of neglect, The Bronx Social Center is back

A partnership between two corporate giants and two grassroots groups has led to the revitalization of a community center and an adjacent public garden in the shadow of a six-story, Morrisania housing complex.

About 40 employees from cable TV provider Altice USA filled the courtyard of 970 Prospect Avenue on June 20 to kick off a day of volunteer work at the The Bronx Social Center. The center is designed for residents to gather and organize around issues that affect the neighborhood. In addition, the space will host ESL and yoga classes, movie nights, and martial arts training sessions. 

The project’s two corporate sponsors, the Home and Garden Television and DIY Network, are both owned by Scripps Networks, a lifestyle media conglomerate. The two local groups helping spearhead the project are Rebuilding Together NYC and Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association.

A longtime tenant said she remembered the excitement tenants felt when planters were first brought in years ago. Millie Nieves, who moved into the building in 1991, also recalled the first stages of work on a mural depicting a woman in white robes along a riverbank. The mural now adorns the garden’s southern wall.

“I was with this from the beginning. I helped put the dirt in the planters and everything,” said Nieves. “I was picking the fruits and the vegetables. I took advantage of that.”

That was Nieves’ first time growing her own food. But things began to take a downturn. The planters gradually became overrun with weeds as tenants stopped caring for the garden, she recalled.

“People get involved in the beginning and then they just slip back out,” she said, adding that access to the garden for residents should be easy. “A lot of times, it’s not available.”

Anna Burnham, lead organizer at Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, which manages the building, said that gardens in buildings it manages are gated to protect them. The organization acquired 970 Prospect Avenue during the ’90s through a city program established to house families that had been homeless.

When the garden first opened, residents and organizers created a committee to manage it and ensure tenants could access it, but gradually participation tapered off. Now, however, tenants have shown renewed interest in the project. Banana Kelly hopes that, with their involvement, the space can once again become accessible.

Regular open hours will be announced, and the produce from the garden will continue to be provided to tenants free of charge.

“I’m glad that there’s progress again,” said Nieves.

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