Long Beach Introduces Its First Entirely ADA-Accessible Garden

Rendering of the Children's Gateway Garden.
Rendering of the Children's Gateway Garden.

“I think of a busy mother,” Kathleen Irvine–someone Long Beach can safely call our own Mother of the Westside–said. “And there she is: stressed out from work and wanting to cater to her children and herself. But how? I think of someone who doesn’t have the physical capabilities of most and there he is: unable to enjoy a park because he can’t even access most of it.”

And for Irvine, the answer revolved something tidy, uncomplicated, and (something that many forget) an endeavor which required work. This may seem counterintuitive to relieving stress–work–but we’re not talking office hours. Irvine went for the simple route: a garden that was not just in an urban environment, but entirely ADA accessible.

Her point brought me to my college days, when my cognitive behavioral professor noticed that my stress level–unbeknownst to me or, in the least, something I was refusing to admit–had increased. Sure, I was getting work done efficiently but my movements were slower, my energy was down, and my participation had dropped. She suggested something that, at that moment, baffled me: gardening.

Rendering of the Children's Gateway Garden.
Rendering of the Children's Gateway Garden.

Much to my amazement, my garden had provided me this odd sense of relief that occurred when I was both in and out of the soil.

The connection between stress relief and gardening is now scientifically backed as more and more research develops. This research largely correlates the human connection with nature as part of a behavior which steadily decreases acute stress. That is, generically speaking, a response to the body by its sympathetic nervous system which causes an increase in epinephrine, norepinephrine, and particularly cortisol. One of the most cited studies even discovered that though reading and gardening both decreased cortisol levels, gardening was significantly ahead of reading as a form of stress relief.

All of the aforementioned neurochemicals (as well as many of the other neurochemicals involved in stress) are beneficial–to the point of being essential. However, with cortisol for example, the build-up can be dangerous; that build-up is usually caused by dwelling on problems, which can occur in a variety of circumstances: immediately returning home and getting to “family work” instead of relief or exercising excessively without balancing your cortisol with proper nutrition or simply repressing stresses or…

And as always with the strange movement of the zeitgeist, you have probably noticed the vast amounts of gardens popping up in odd places–everywhere from alleyways to jails–and this is, essentially, a good thing.

But for Irvine, there was a sense of exclusivity about these gardens that most hadn’t taken into account.

“Working at New City School and then working with students and parents outside of schools and working with community members… I realized that most community gardens are very exclusive,” Irvine said. “The idea was then focused on a whole new concept that was much more sophisticated and would lend itself more towards the true definition of a ‘community garden.'”

Carpenters creating the vegetable and fruit beds to be placed in the garden.
Carpenters creating the vegetable and fruit beds to be placed in the garden.

That began October 1, as the groundwork began on the Children’s Gateway Garden in Cesar Chavez Park on the west side–and even more importantly, it marks the only completely ADA-accessible garden in Long Beach.

It will eventually offer, when all is said and done, nine beds across 4,800 sq. ft. of space, something Irvine reemphasized “is at a number that is simple to maintain.” As with many gardens, the pathways accessing them are mulch-, pebble-, or sand-based, ultimately acting as a U-turn sign for those with disabilities. However, the Gateway will have solid pathways being 6ft wide, with all beds 30″ in height.

Thus far, the Wilmore City Heritage Association–the organization Irvine has attached herself too–has fully raised the $45,000 to fully fund the project. Thanks to many donations–including contractual work donated by restoration guru Jan van Dijs (the guy behind restoring the Art Theatre and the American Hotel/Psychic Temple)–costs have dwindled immensely. The connecting Amphitheater, soon to bridge the project, currently has $12,000 in funding, with an additional $30,000 to be raised.

So for that mom or college student, in a wheelchair or otherwise, there’s a space for you on the westside. And it’s because the Mother of the Westside thinks about you all the time.

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