Cornell, Sustainability and the Kingston Yardworks Program


Since I bought my house in 2009, I have tried to make my home as sustainable as possible. I added a solar electric system with battery backup. I insulated like crazy. I eliminated almost all disposable paper products from my waste stream. My yard, however, has always been a bit frustrating. I tried to reseed a section in the front, and it ended badly. The crabgrass is aggressive. I have almost killed my favorite rose bush and my peonies only bloom for a few days before they fall apart. Over the past five years I have learned that I have no idea how to care for my plants.


At the end of 2014 I was contacted by graduate students from Cornell about a program they are running called Yardworks. In their words:


The YardWorks project is a collaboration between the Cornell Landscape Architecture Department, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Cornell Cooperative Extension. We work with neighborhoods in NY state to create design concepts that would improve local habitat and biodiversity. In Kingston, we are also especially interested in environmental design for climate change. The upcoming YardWorks project will take place from late January 2015 to May 2015. The participating neighborhood landowners will be asked to attend 3 or 4 meetings with the 2nd year Landscape Architecture graduate studio. We would come to Kingston, so there would be no travel involved for the landowners. At the first couple of meetings we work with the landowners to come up with a set of neighborhood goals that can be addressed through ecological yard design. After this, each landowner will be assigned to a student who will work with them individually on their property and come up with a site design concept. Whether or not you implement the design in your yard is totally up to you! However, there may be some installation funding involved for those who wish to move forward.


I immediately responded “YES!” to free graduate student consulting. We are currently setting goals, and soon my student will be assigned to me. I believe this is a great example of a way to address climate change and sustainability on the city level. I’ve already met a number of like-minded neighbors that I didn’t know before and we’ve started talking about ways to tackle environmental issues in our neighborhood - like what to do next time we get a hurricane. My neighborhood was destroyed by Irene. We’re also talking about how we want to increase pollinators in our community. I might even get a small beehive. My favorite piece of information so far involves downspouts. The students explained to me how the sewer system in Kingston works, and that when there is a heavy rain, the sewers take in too much water and sewage gets into places that it shouldn’t be. Disconnecting downspouts is a way to capture more rainwater through the soil while keeping it from entering the sewer system. They also showed me the rain garden my local library recently put in, and shared the total amount of rain water diverted from the sewer system from the rain garden installation. I don’t have the exact figure on me - but I remember it being hundreds of thousands of gallons per year. I want to say almost half a million.

I really believe that individual communities and cities have the ability to create change more quickly than larger groups like the state and federal government. There is less red tape, and it’s easier to get together and keep everything moving in the right direction. I’m excited to learn what my yard has been hiding from me, and how I can make my city more sustainable.