Earth Day Celebrated by Reclaiming Abandoned Spaces

May 5, 2011

DETROIT -- Approximately 18 local citizens celebrated Earth Day by plating sunflower seedlings on a vacant lot next to an abandoned building in East Detroit on April 21.

The event was held at the corner of Forest and Chene where seedlings grown by Nsoroma Institute students were implanted by students from Build On and other community members in a symbolic gesture of “reclaiming abandoned spaces” as part of a ceremony of the Radical Joy for Hard Times program.

“In honor of Earth Day we wanted to commemorate the Earth and all that she does in our lives,” said Sonya Green an Environmental Community Fellow with the East Michigan Environmental Action Council. “People all over the world are taking this concept and going to places that may have been negatively affected. We go to bare witness to what has happened and then leave something beautiful behind. It’s about recalling our connectedness to the Earth, and then giving something positive back.”

Green said that sunflowers were chosen for both the potential and practical symbolic role they can play in revitalizing the city.

“During the walk at the U.S. Social Forum, sunflowers were a symbol of resiliency, but sunflowers also help to remediate the soil,” she said. “They help take the lead out of the soil and it helps prepare the soil for planting. With the sunflowers growing in front of a building that is decaying, that is a symbol of hope to me. That is why we selected this area.”

Activities for the Earth Day event included a “mindfulness walk” where participants walked through the area picking up litter and meditating on what they saw. They next shared their reflections and hopes before cultivating an area of the lot and planting the seedlings. The young plants were then covered with plastic to help insulate them from any unseasonably low temperatures while still sprouting.
“This activity was to actualize (regrowth) in an area of Detroit that was once densely populated,” Green said. “One of the people who came out grew up in this area and shared that with me. Everything on Earth is in a reciprocal relationship. We have a reciprocal relationship with the Earth as well.”