How Vanderveer Place Won the ‘Greenest Block in Brooklyn’ Contest

NEW YORK—When I arrived at Vanderveer Place today, a small street with 27 family homes, Cecil Cuffley and her sisters Cheryl and Anette warmly greeted me, offering orange juice, mini turkey buns, and homemade coconut bread. They were celebrating.

Their smiles enhanced the environment from which they stood, which felt just like an oasis with every single home bursting with trees, and bushes and flowers in clean, brilliant color, in sharp contrast to the dull brown and gray streets in New York City.

The block association, of which the Cuffley’s are part, are the first prize winners of the residential street category in a contest for the Greenest Block in Brooklyn.

Vanderveer Place has won the first prize three times. They won the inaugural year in 1995, in 2006, and again this year, but Venderveer Place Block Association President Olivia Avery tells me proudly that they have placed every single year.

The block’s affinity for gardening began in 1971, explains Cecil Cuffley, when their family arrived from Barbados and bought a home there.

“My mother as a matter of fact, she was the initial gardener of the block, because you know she loved her gardens in Barbados,” explains Cecil.

Elsie Cuffley spent morning, noon, and night out in the yard gardening, which attracted the interest of neighbors. They would chat over the hedge while Elsie weeded and tended her flowers.

“We sort of just kept up the tradition and then the block became involved,” says Anette.

The Vanderveer Place Block Association, which is over 20 years old, began a friendly gardening contest of its own, with categories for best front garden, best window box, and most creativity.

When the Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest was announced, Vanderveer was already well cultivated for the race and naturally joined in.

Robin Simmen, Director of GreenBridge, the community outreach arm of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and the main coordinator of the contest, congratulates the people of Vanderveer Place Block Association.

“They are setting a very powerful example to all of Brooklyn about how people can do so many things together,” Simmen said. “Not only are they making a beautiful place for themselves to enjoy, but all the people who walk up and down that block get to enjoy it.”

“They are the extraordinary folks who deserve the attention for this.”
Contest Growing to Fill a Real Need

Brooklyn, with 2.5 million residents, is currently equivalent to the third largest city in the U.S., yet it has the second-lowest percentage of green space per capita. The Mayor’s report plaNYC 2030 estimates that the population of Brooklyn will increase by 1 million by 2030.

From the perspective of per capita measurement, that means even more green space is needed.

“Over the past 16 years, it’s become clear that the contest’s footprint has widened beyond our expectations, and its mission to both green the borough and rejuvenate community connection has resonated very deeply,” says Scot Medbury, president of Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

This year’s race involved 220 blocks, up from 52 in 1995.

Other categories in the contest include a commercial block category (First-Hoyt Street Victory Gardens Block), Best Street Tree Beds (First-Bainbridge Homeowners & Tenants Association), Greenest Storefront (First-Burrito Bar, 307 Flatbush Avenue), Best Window Box (First-Sam Hall, 478 State Street), Best GreenBridge Window Box Kit (First-Sunny Box, 49 Rutland Road), and Best Community Garden Streetscape (First-Brooklyn’s Finest Garden).

The Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest enjoys the support of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and founding sponsor the Brooklyn Community Foundation.

“It doesn’t belong to anyone—it truly is a collaboration on every level, and that is what it celebrates,” Simmen said. “It celebrates the collaboration of people in making their blocks greener.”