Peter Vogelaar, then MVRCR Executive Director, speaks to community members gathered at the Utica Library during the garden’s early planning stage in 2012.
2011: Planning gets underway
In 2012 Cornell’s Rust2Green Utica’s university-community partnership worked with Utica’s Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR) to secure a planning grant from the Open Spaces Sacred Places (OSSP) Program of Baltimore’s TKF Foundation. This was the first step towards transforming 3 vacant City-owned lots on Park Avenue into a new public space dedicated to multi-cultural diversity, inclusion and creative expression.
2012: Collectively creating a vision plan
With the OSSP planning grant in hand, the next step was design as a year-long community-engaged participatory design process got underway. This was led by an interdisciplinary design and research team of faculty and students from Cornell, MWPratt, Empire College and the Ringling College of Art & Design. Design sessions and dialogues– attended by local residents, artists, and representatives of Utica’s refugee community, among others–happened at the Utica Library. A buildable design plan was created and represented with illustrative visuals, technical specifications and cost estimates. Also created was an accompanying 3-year research plan focused on studying the garden’s impacts, once built, on both its users and neighborhood surroundings.
Late 2012: Getting selected as an OSSP finalist!
Late in 2012, the completed One World Garden plans were submitted to the TKF Foundation to support both its construction and research phases through the OSSP program. One World Garden’s nearly $2M proposal, which TKF recognized as exemplar, went on to be selected as one of ten nationwide finalists. During a site visit to Utica by the entire TKF Foundation and their own team of experts, the One World Garden team enthusiastically presented the plans.
2013 to the present: Forging ahead towards realization!
Unfortunately, in early 2013, when TKF’s final awards were announced, Utica learned the One World Garden was not among them. Since that time, however, Cornell’s Rust2Green (R2G) partnership has been working hard to secure funding for the garden’s construction. By late 2016, R2G’s learned its efforts had paid off when it secured, for the City, over $600K in Phase One funds, from NYS Parks. By 2018, R2G had secured a second major grant from the NYS Environmental Protection Fund. This means that there is now a total of $1.4M coming from NYS funds to enabling the One World Garden to move ahead!
Open Spaces Sacred Places: The Healing Power of Nature is a National Award Program of the TKF Foundation, funding and activating the realization of new OSSP Gardens and associated research programs. OSSP Gardens are created to support the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of individuals living in challenging urban environments. They are also places for conducting research as they provide tangible evidence related to the direct impacts –for individuals and communities– of encountering and experiencing nature in an urban setting.
Desired Outcomes of OSSP Projects
- Creation of new OSSP’s in stressful urban environments where a community of users gains an opportunity for deeper human experience in nature.
- Applied research studying OSSP impacts and efficacy related to improved human health and well-being.
- Empirical findings collectively enhancing theoretical understandings of the value of nearby urban nature in human health and well-being, and supporting evidence-based urban planning and community design.
- Development of best practices and methods for cross-disciplinary collaboration in developing, implementing, and studying creative nature-based approaches in today’s cities.
- Establishment of a national network of OSSP garden demonstration and study sites.
Many Cultures, One Community
In the past 30 years, Utica has settled more than 13,000 refugees. This phenomenon has been the subject of numerous national and international news articles and has provided Oneida County with the fourth highest concentration of refugees in the U.S. and the City of Utica with a refugee population of nearly 12%. Refugees have been resettled to the region by The Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR), one of the largest resettlement agencies in the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services network. Since its inception in 1979, the Center has assisted refugees from more than 31 countries. The Center promotes the well-being of culturally diverse individuals and families within Utica by welcoming new neighbors, refugees and immigrants, and by providing community-centered activities designed to create opportunity and facilitate understanding.
US Census 2010: 62,235
Average refugee resettlement per year: 525
Number of refugee home countries: 31
1 in 6 people living in Utica are refugees
Utica’s One World Garden will be a place of remembering and celebrating unity and the coming together of people from diverse cultures to settle and shape their chosen homeplace. It will be a place to acknowledge the rich social and cultural identity that defines Utica and to seek retreat, friendship and community. This green oasis will provide space for reflecting, learning, and acknowledging differences, hardships and hopes. The garden will celebrate resilience and transformation. It will be a place to visit in solitude, in the company of others, or to gather in commemoration of United Nations Day, UN Refugee Day, or religious, seasonal or cultural events. One World Garden hopes to impact those who experience it—for a brief moment or a lifetime. With the stories it tells and harbors, One World Garden seeks to become a meaningful place representing and supporting Utica’s diversity and its promise of renewal by those who continue to call it their home.