Elliot Gonzalez: Planting Life Into The Community

Call Elliot Gonzalez a community activist. Call him an underground urban planner. Call him a gardener with a mission.

Full disclosure: I call him my friend.

Elliot is the codirector of Urban Paradise, a completely volunteer organization that is seeking permission from the city to plant a drought resistant garden on the library roof. And that’s just the beginning.

Many residents—even those who have lived in the city for decades— may not be aware that the roof of the library was once a park, an oasis of planters, fountains, seating areas, small lawns, and several performance spaces. The space is still there, though decrepit. The view is unparalleled in the city – it is our central park, sitting vacant, dormant, skeletal, grey instead of green, abandoned instead of being loved, cultivated, utilized.

Urban Paradise intends to turn this tragedy into a labor of love followed by a celebration. They would like to see the park once again used to its fullest, with educational gardens, murals painted by local artists, performances, and all the activities of a true civic center, a central city plaza of the kind Long Beach now lacks.

Sounds great, don’t you think?

In June, the City Council gave Urban Paradise approval to create a garden adjacent to the library. Urban Paradise members and community volunteers hope to plant the seeds of their grand vision with a kind of small scale trial run before gaining access to the rooftop park – a 35′ x 70′ plot for drought-resistant and California native vegetation on the northeast corner of Ocean Boulevard and Pacific Avenue. .

Volunteers are invited and needed. To participate, just arrive:

Sunday, November 23, beginning at 10:30a.m.

Tools (shovels especially) are great but not required. Your own gardening gloves are recommended. Water and snacks will be provided. All ages and abilities are welcome.

This project is the beginning of a broader vision of Long Beach shared by Elliot and his fellow codirector, Rachel Bennish. Urban paradise has no full-time staff, no real budget (does Elliot’s bus fare count?), and no entrenched political connections. What they have is awareness, intelligence, passion, and a beautiful vision of a sustainable, highly livable city – and urban paradise.

“We’ve received no money from the city,” says Elliot. “Plants have been donated by Armstrong Gardens, Long Beach City College, The Eldorado Nature center. This is a project by and for the people who love Long Beach.”

One of the city’s stipulations was that the plants have to survive without irrigation. “Only the water that we can carry in buckets to the plot is permitted,” says Rachel Bennish, Urban Paradise’s co-director. “So, essentially, we must rely on rainwater, and we have to plant accordingly, using only the drought-resistant plants that are native to this area—the kind of plants that were here long before we had manicured lawns with sprinkler systems.”

Urban Paradise would like to see this kind of urban planning extend to residences, businesses, and government properties as soon as possible, and I couldn’t agree more.

Donations, including plants, money, tools or time, are gladly accepted.  Visit oururbanparadise.blogspot.com or just call Elliot: 562.786.3874.

How’s that for grassroots?

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