J.T. Owens Park will soon be home to a small orchard, in tribute to a Providence neighborhood that once existed at the site. A group of local nonprofits and residents are planting the fruit trees today.
The West Elm neighborhood in the southwestern part of Providence was bulldozed in the early 1960s to build an industrial park. That displaced more than 500 families in one of the first racially integrated neighborhoods in the city, according to Holly Ewald, artistic director of UPP Arts, one of the groups organizing the event.
“No sign of it [the neighborhood] exists,” said Ewald. “It’s all industrial park. And this commemorative orchard is a way to bring people who used to live there together to plant the trees… People talked about how they could eat their way through the neighborhood [because] there were so many fruit trees.”
UPP Arts and others had the soil tested to make sure it would be safe for growing food. Ewald said a few people who grew up in that neighborhood and others will plant pear, cherry, and apricot trees to commemorate the neighborhood’s history and promote green space. The trees were donated by the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program. The groups will add a protective guard rail later this month.
In the fall, UPP Arts and Urban Youth Arts will install a hand-painted sign designed by a local artist in partnership with former residents of the West Elm neighborhood. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will accompany that installation.
This commemorative orchard is part of a project that was funded by a PopUp Providence grant. The project at J.T. Owens Park started last year with a mural painting by Urban Youth Arts and UPP Arts. The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the Department of Environmental Management, the Narragansett Bay Commission, and the Rhode Island Foundation provided more funding for the orchard.
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