It has always mesmerized me that I live a block away from Ridgewood, Queens, a neighborhood filled with trees and summer shade. Here in Bushwick, we don’t have that many trees lining our streets, or they seem poorly taken care of. I wonder often if this is due to a difference between Queens and Brooklyn or some other some display of status. Because Queens seems to be doing much better than Brooklyn in terms of greenery.

Months ago, I was speaking to a good friend about what my block in Bushwick needs. She works for Sandy Nurse, the neighborhood’s recently-elected representative on city council. I’ve lived in Bushwick for the past eight years and I said we need more trees on my block. She pointed me toward a form, wrote a project, and now it’s on the ballot, as part of the city council’s  latest round of participatory budgeting. 

Participatory Budgeting is a process where people who live in a community can directly decide how to spend a small part of the city’s budget. My proposal is one of the six projects on the ballot for District 37, which covers parts of Bushwick, Brownsville, Cypress Hills, and East New York.

Specifically on my block – Wyckoff Avenue, between Stockholm Street. and Dekalb Avenue – there’s not one tree or anything else green. On the contrary, there’s an abandoned six-story parking lot that looks like an oversized Meccano set, and a whole metal ship container plopped in the middle of Wyckoff Avenue. 

Queens seems to be doing much better than Brooklyn in terms of greenery, writes Camilo Salas.

Bushwick’s always praised because of its looks. People say: ‘It’s like the old New York’ when they look at my building, with its fire-escape stairs that face the street, and the small details of angels and flowers carved above my windows. But from my apartment, it looks more like the wreckage of a ship.

I don’t have anything against the bar that installed a red elephant in front of my building, nor against people who no longer want to pay to have their car parked inside a metal cage. But I have my own solution: hide those atrocities behind trees.

This project originally was to have a few trees on my block, just to look out of my own window, but I turned it into a real proposal with ideas for thirty trees to be planted all over the neighborhood. 

If this passes, we have a lot of plans. We want to create tree sculptures on my block, name all thirty of the trees and even envision a website to follow the installation and lifespan of our new urban neighbors.

When conditions are right, creative people pop up in surprising places with innovative ideas, just like trees in the middle of Bushwick.

Voting for participatory budgeting begins this year on Saturday, March 25th and ends April 2nd. Voting is open to everyone ages 11 and over who live in a participating council district. Vote online here.

Camilo Salas is a Chilean journalist, producer, and film photography aficionado who has spent the past decade in Bushwick. You can follow him on Instagram at @zamilo. Bushwick Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of local voices. Do you have something you’d like to say? Email: [email protected].

Images taken by Camilo Salas.

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