R2G in Action

Martin Luther King Jr.
School Yard Project

Project Overview

One of Utica's most important assets, and a vital ingredient of the city's renewal and reimagining are its schools. Schools are hubs of community life and learning for students, teachers, families and neighbors. They are places that bring community members together with the common goal of enriching and preparing emerging generations for engaged, independent and productive civic lives. Throughout the United States and the world, schools are reimagining their exterior spaces and surroundings to reflect and support changing environmental and cultural values and integrate such things as creative play, social, cultural and environmental learning, food systems and engaged pedagogies (Danks 2011).

Rust to Green NYS has partnered with School Principal Mark DeSalvo, the Mohawk Valley Food Action Network, and the Family and Community Connections Network to transform the Martin Luther King elementary schoolyard and grounds into a community and neighborhood hub- an outdoor learning and living classroom or laboratory- for hands-on learning related to sustainable food and environmental systems. Starting in the summer of 2012 Rust to Green Civic Research Fellows led by Paula Horrigan undertook a participatory design process collaborating with MLK's Family and Community Connections Network (F&CC). During design sessions and meetings, held at the school, RCIL, and Utica Public Library, the group collectively generated the schoolyard's design concept into the I HAVE A DREAMscape project.

The I HAVE A DREAMscape design concept proposes a schoolyard that will engage students in new ways of learning subjects such as math, science, art, and social studies while also enabling them to discover, co-create, and regenerate the world around them. The school's landscape will be a catalytic component of a larger agenda involving changing school lunches, teaching food and nutrition and incorporating environmental and sustainability learning into the curriculum. The MLK Sustainable Schoolyard project, its design, implementation, and subsequent evaluation, stands to become a model for reimagining other school and institutional landscapes in Utica and advancing the integrated goals of R2G NYS, Rust to Green Utica, the Mohawk Valley Food Action Network (MVFAN) and the Utica Schools. The partner organizations believe that accomplishing a successful project like the MLK Sustainable Schoolyard and garden is a critical first step toward leveraging additional resources and community support for changing the landscape of Utica's schools, renewing neighborhoods and advancing sustainability in the larger city and region.

Sources Cited

Danks, Sharon (2011). Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation.
Oakland: New Village Press.

Project Goals

  • Danks, Sharon (2011). Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation. Oakland: New Village Press.
  • Actively engage community members in stewardship to encourage empowerment and local leadership.
  • Promote personal and community health through nutrition, physical activity, and environmental stewardship.
  • Celebrate and promote the community's cultural diversity and identity in the schoolyard and its surrounding neighborhood.
  • Foster a rich landscape mosaic that weaves together stories of local culture and ecology.


  • Mohawk Valley Food Action Network
  • Utica City School District
  • Resource Center for Independent Living
  • Leaf, Loaf & Ladle
  • Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Cornell University Department of Human Ecology
  • Utica Public Library
  • Utica College
  • Literacy Coalition of Herkimer and Oneida Counties
  • United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County
  • Boy Scouts
  • Mohawk Valley Frontiers
  • Neighborhood Investment Association
  • Mohawk Valley Community Action
  • St. Martin dePorres

The I have a dreamscape
vision plan & concepts

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, Utica, New York, Summer 2012