What the BUILD Act could build: Hope Tree Nursery in Providence, RI

Image courtesy Groundwork Providence

In Providence, Rhode Island, on the site of a former factory, an urban nursery is helping make the whole city more green.

Hope Tree Nursery is the first financially self-sustaining nursery constructed on a brownfield in the United States. The site was once home to the Rau Fastener Company on Sprague Street, southwest of Downtown Providence.Years of producing metal fasteners left the site contaminated with heavy metals and today, Sprague Street is part of an economically distressed community lacking green space. Known as a “legacy city,” the area is characterized by the vestiges of a past, productive era.

The project is spearheaded by Groundworks Providence and its partners, who hope a nursery will provide much needed green space to the area and increase the tree canopy while involving the larger community in remediation efforts. Supported by the City of Providence and Trees 2020, the Hope Tree Nursery’s partners aim to foster environmental change and community development by encouraging community groups and local residents to become involved in the nursery.

The project has significant economic benefits, too. A 2008 study by the City of Providence found that the city was paid back $3.33 annually for every dollar spent on planting trees. By improving public health and increasing property values, Groundwork Providence envisions the nursery to have impacts far outside its fences.

A grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program provided the initial, assessment of the Sprague Street site’s contamination. Left vacant for years after the assessment, Groundwork Providence came into possession of 4,500 sq.ft. of the site through a generous annual lease of $1 from Rhode Island Housing.

Today the Nursey is thriving, and Groundwork Providence recognized an opportunity for even broader economic impact. The organization has trained local residents in environmental remediation, and used the Nursery as a living classroom. This aspect of the program was made possible by the EPA’s Brownfields Job Training Program, and facilitated the project’s development by enabling communities to invest in their futures.

“The nursery connects the residents of the community to the wellness of their neighborhood,” said Joe Vaughan, former Executive Director of Groundwork Providence, “and provides the local residents with the skills and resources they need to be stewards of their own community.”

The Hope Tree Nursery shows how federal support can help breathe new life into cherished yet blighted sites. The BUILD Act will help communities make lasting, positive change in places like Providence and across the country. The Hope Tree Nursery will be a community asset to Providence, and plant the seeds of change in a economically challenged community. The project is a stellar template for the potential of brownfields redevelopment across Rhode Island and the country.

A new bill in Congress could help more communities invest in projects like the Hope Tree Nursery. The Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act, introduced in early March, will make more projects like this possible. The BUILD Act would help communities to redevelop contaminated and abandoned sites that inhibit economic development and pose risks to public health. The legislation would reauthorize the EPA’s Brownfields Program, an essential part of the Hope Tree Nursery’s success. Voice your support for the BUILD Act: Send a letter to your Senators today.