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Greens in Queens

Botanical Garden composts in the city.

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The people behind the Queens Botanical Garden have reversed Joni Mitchell’s famous lament: They’ve put up paradise on a paved parking lot— a $22 million environmentally tricked-out visitor and administration center where cars used to idle. The ecoshrine opens to the public September 29, with a weekend-long celebration packed with family-friendly workshops, most of them devoted to sustainability. “Kids come to [environmentalism] more quickly, often, than adults do,” says Susan Lacerte, executive director. “They get it in a second.” “They ask questions adults might hesitate to ask,” adds Jennifer Ward Souder, director of capital projects, referring specifically to the Garden’s two composting toilets. “They think these are the coolest bathrooms they have ever seen.” The new complex also has three roofs, each of which will be incorporated into activities. Children can make rain sticks, an ode to the water-gathering roof; learn about solar energy, a nod to the photovoltaic one; and make model green roofs on the green one itself. Watching how sod absorbs water and keeps it from overflowing storm sewers is just the sort of hands-on indoctrination that makes growing minds wonder why there aren’t more green roofs around. Storytellers, a parade of dancers, worm-filled compost, and the inevitable friendship-bracelet class (they’re made of hemp here) round out the celebration. Both Lacerte and Souder are thrilled to be part of nurturing a generation that questions waste and sees the sun as an engine to be harnessed. “We make things visible,” says Lacerte. “You can walk up on the green roof and see the landscape where the water percolates down and feel it. The whole project is one big environmental lesson.”


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