Keney Park Sustainability Project: Engaging Community and Environment

Herbert Virgo

The Keney Park Sustainability Project (KPSP) is a program of the Family Day Foundation, a locally-based organization that engages the community around Keney Park in a variety of areas including: health and nutrition education, landscaping, forest management, waste stream reduction, building and design, and urban agriculture.  

Since 1998 The Family Day Foundation has committed to its mission to instill pride and increase community involvement of families through positive recreational, educational and economic experiences. For the past 15 years, the organization has put on the Family Day Festival, educating and engaging thousands of community members in the areas of environmental justice.  It contracts with state and local agencies to present at the annual festival in order to provide the community with tools and strategies to address their environmental and public health issues.

KPSP is located in the heart of an environmental justice community, in one of the poorest cities in the country.   In 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development designated a 3.11 square mile area in North Hartford as a Promise Zone, encompassing the Keney Park.  With this designation, Hartford became one of 20 “high-poverty, high capacity” communities in the country – and the first in New England – to be recognized as a Promise Zone community. Once home to a mixed-income community, with a strong manufacturing base, the North Hartford Promise Zone (NHPZ) serves as an important entry corridor into the City’s downtown that is now characterized by pervasive poverty (49.35% compared to the City’s 33.9% and State 10%), low employment (72.56% compared to the City’s rate of 83.6%) violent crime (the area’s Part I violent crime rate per 1,000 residents is 66.2, compared to the City’s rate of 53.9 from 2011-2013), and food insecurity.

Keney Park Sustainability Project currently occupies a City-owned building in Keney Park, directly adjacent to the project site, and has a number of programs that have demonstrated strong, multifaceted connections to the affected community.  KPSP has not only managed the building and its site, but leveraged partnerships across the community to build greenhouses, a community garden, a composting site, a woodworking area, and other features.  

Significant levels of involvement in the direction of this project have been gleaned by residents (including the youth served by the community garden site, as well as Youth Service Corps volunteers already working on-site), as well as volunteers and others.  In addition, KPSP has helped to redevelop a significant portion of the trails within Keney Park, including three years of managing a State-funded trails project.  

Community volunteers assisted in the identification and clearing of over 15 miles of nature trails in Hartford’s Keney Park.  The trails offer many health benefits for the community such as decreasing obesity and asthma.  KPSP in collaborative efforts with DEEP’s “No Child Left Inside” Summer Environmental Awareness Program and community youth to address issues such as recycling, litter and air quality.  During the summer, the KPSP youth program participates in environmental justice classes, workshops and demonstrations as well as trail cleanups, pond cleaning and removal of invasive species.  

Through this project, we believe that the affected community will become environmentally literate. This will enable them to make informed choices about environmental issues such as water quality and recycling.  Empowering the community by demonstrating how to reduce waste streams which will improve their quality of life.  

To learn more, check out KPSP's Facebook and Instagram accounts.