Harlem Word: Donte Taylor shares the history of the New York Restoration Project
Donte Taylor is the Manhattan Regional Manager for the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), a non-profit organization committed to developing New York City’s green spaces. Here Dante talks about how the New York Restoration Project started as Bette Midler’s commitment to cleaning up New York City parks and green spaces.
Q: Can you tell us what the New York Restoration Project is, including who founded it, and why?
A: The New York Restoration Project (NYRP) was founded by Bette Midler in 1995. It started out, as Bette says, as a dream. She lived in Hawaii, but often came to New York City, where she noticed that besides Central Park some of the other parks weren’t in great shape. So she decided to start an organization that would improve NYC parks. NYRP began as a small group of community members who volunteered to clean up parks.
The NYRP’s first project in 1995, was basic litter removal at Fort Washington Park.
The next biggest project in 1996, was Highbridge Park West 155 St and Dyckman St, Edgecombe Av & Amsterdam Ave Manhattan which I have heard used to be a dumpsite. NYRP removed hundred of tires and car parts from the area, and cleaned it up. Then in 1999, Bette found out that there were a lot of small community gardens that were being sold by the City to pay off debt. So, Bette contacted Mayor Bloomberg and NYRP purchased 52 of those sites that are located throughout all five boroughs. These sites are now community gardens that are owned and managed by the NYRP. Our community gardens are places where people come together and can grow anything—from tomatoes to radishes. Also, NYRP organizes all different types of programs and workshops at the community gardens, like jazz night, yoga classes, and summer movie nights. The NYRP also runs a summer camp for kids ages 7-13 at Swindler’s Cove in Sherman Park that focuses on themes like how to cook or eat in healthy ways.
Q: How did you get involved with the New York Restoration Project?
A: I started working for NYRP in 2003 as an AmeriCorps volunteer. My work involved cleaning up parks. We also did some small gardening projects. As time went on, I became a supervisor at Fort Tryon Park doing daily maintenance, cleaning, removing graffiti and glass, keeping those areas looking nice. I was eventually promoted to Regional Manager for the Manhattan gardens. I have been the regional manager of the all the community gardens in Manhattan for two and a half years. In this role, I manage a small crew that looks after all the community gardens in Manhattan.