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Cultivating Sustainable Communities: The Intersection of Affordable Housing and Environmental Stewardship

Community Development
Cultivating Sustainable Communities: The Intersection of Affordable Housing and Environmental Stewardship

Turning Parking Lots into Urban Oases

I’ll never forget the day I first stepped foot onto the site that would become the Cooper Gardens housing development in the Bronx. It was just an open parking lot back then – a barren stretch of asphalt with nary a tree or flower in sight. But as I gazed out over the expanse, I couldn’t help but daydream about the vibrant, sustainable community that was about to take root.

You see, I’m Elaine Braithwaite, the Senior Director for New Construction at LM Development Partners, and this project was a labor of love from the very beginning. We had teamed up with the brilliant minds at St. Barnabas Hospital, led by Dr. Manisha Kulshreshtha, to transform this forgotten plot of land into a shining example of what’s possible when affordable housing and environmental stewardship collide.

Building a Brighter Future

As the plans started to take shape, I could already see the vision coming to life. Solar panels would line the rooftops, harnessing the sun’s energy to power the homes below. A rooftop garden would spring to life, providing residents with fresh, nutritious produce grown right on-site. And an apiary – a literal beehive of activity – would serve as a buzzing reminder of the importance of pollinators in our delicate ecosystem.

This wasn’t just another affordable housing project. No, this was an opportunity to create a thriving, self-sustaining community that would serve as a model for others to follow. And with the backing of partners like Wells Fargo, who provided critical funding and support, we knew we were on the path to something truly special.

Cultivating Community Connections

As the construction progressed, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of giddiness. This wasn’t just about building apartments – it was about building a brighter future for the entire neighborhood. And the heart of that future would be the Cooper Gardens rooftop garden, where residents would come together to learn, grow, and nourish both their bodies and their community connections.

“The idea was to have food growing on the roof and have community programs that help to support residents eating healthy, nutritious plant-based food,” explained Linda Goode Bryant, the Founder and President of Project EATS, the organization tasked with bringing the garden to life. “We work with food-insecure communities throughout New York City, and the primary benefit is access to fresh, healthy food grown right where people live.”

Weaving Wellness and Wellbeing

But the magic of Cooper Gardens didn’t stop there. Integrated right into the development was a state-of-the-art wellness center, where residents could access a range of healthcare services and support. As Dr. Kulshreshtha, the Senior VP and Chief Clinical and Strategy Officer at St. Barnabas Hospital, explained, “Our whole mission is to prevent our patients from getting into the hospital. I know it sounds weird for me as a provider and a physician to say that, but we want them healthy. That’s our goal.”

And by pairing affordable housing with on-site social services and support, the team at Cooper Gardens is doing just that. Through their partnership with BronxWorks, a local nonprofit organization, residents have access to case management, financial education, and vocational resources – all designed to help them thrive and achieve long-term stability.

Fostering Resilience and Empowerment

As I walk through the halls of Cooper Gardens today, I’m struck by the sense of community and empowerment that permeates the air. Residents like Maria Perez beam with pride as they show off their beautifully appointed homes, their excitement palpable as they describe the bounty of the rooftop garden and the warmth of the supportive services available to them.

“When I got pulled to live here, I’d seen how the apartment looks,” Maria shared. “It looks beautiful, and it’s the perfect place to raise the boys.” And for Maria and her family, as well as the other 313 households that call Cooper Gardens home, this isn’t just a place to live – it’s a haven, a launching pad for a brighter, more sustainable future.

The Ripple Effect of Sustainable Stewardship

But the impact of Cooper Gardens extends far beyond the confines of its walls. As communities across the country grapple with the challenges of affordable housing and climate change, projects like this one are serving as a beacon of hope and inspiration.

“Sustainability is definitely a priority in the affordable housing industry,” affirmed Korbin Heiss, the Managing Director of Community Lending and Investment at Wells Fargo. “What’s exciting about this project is that it blends the related elements of health, housing, and sustainability – all of which are critical to creating thriving communities.”

And as the team at the Healthy Affordable Community Coalition continues to champion the cause of sustainable, equitable housing solutions, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride in the role we’ve played in shaping this narrative. After all, turning parking lots into urban oases is just the beginning. The real work lies in cultivating a future where every community can thrive, both environmentally and economically.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a rooftop garden to tend to and a hive of busy bees to check on. The future of sustainable, affordable housing is buzzing, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us next.

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