Norris Square Neighborhood Project — an organization in Kensington dedicated to urban gardening and the neighborhood’s rich Puerto Rican culture, delivering youth programs that center on art, culture, and the environment. In 1973, Natalie Kempner, a local fifth-grade teacher, and Helen Loeb, a professor at Eastern State University, collaborated with a dedicated group of volunteer teachers, artists, and a local Puerto Rican women’s group (Grupo Motivos) to found Norris Square Neighborhood Project (NSNP). Together, they created an educational center that was culturally relevant to and protective of the children living in West Kensington, a neighborhood known for its deadly drug culture.
Beginning in the early 1980s, they began to occupy the many empty lots that had been used as open-air drug markets. The women, community members and local organizations transformed the vacant lands into what are now NSNP’s six Latinx culturally-themed gardens. Today, these green sensory spaces are positive demonstrations of the transformation of a community that struggled with poverty and crime, as well as the preservation of Puerto Rican and Latinx cultures.
From our humble beginnings over four decades ago, NSNP has worked to provide safe spaces for youth and community members to engage with the environment, art, and Latinx cultures as well as share food, history, and artistic expression. We must continue to support NSNP and protect its prized gardens that are threatened daily by urban developers aiming to gentrify the neighborhood, eventually stripping it from its rich culture and intergenerational gathering spaces for youth and community residents.