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Domino effect

July 11, 2015 -  By
Zaretsky & Associates’ Project Scion transforms urban areas with gardens. Photo: Zaretsky & Associates

Zaretsky & Associates’ Project Scion transforms urban areas with gardens. Photo: Zaretsky & Associates

With Project Scion, Zaretsky & Associates shows how transformative gardens and landscapes can be.

Vacant lots dot the landscape in Rochester, N.Y.’s slums like one lost opportunity after another. But a closer look reveals progress.

Progress, it turns out, has a name. It’s Project Scion.

Project Scion is the brainchild of Bruce Zaretsky and Sharon Coates of the Macedon, N.Y., landscape design firm Zaretsky & Associates, and their friend Pietro Furgiuele. Three years since its birth, Project Scion is transforming Rochester’s urban landscape one community garden at a time. In the process, it’s galvanizing inner-city residents and filling them with pride.

“We do not just go into these neighborhoods and build the gardens for the neighborhood,” says Coates, the company’s vice president. “The residents build the garden with us so that they have pride 
of ownership.”

Since the program launched in 2012, the gardens have become “places of peace and respite in areas severely lacking in both,” Coates says.

The green space creates positivity in these neighborhoods that’s contagious. “We noticed soon after completing our first garden that the neighbor two doors down painted their porch,” says Zaretsky, the company’s president. “Then another planted flowers. This domino effect is what we are after.”


Photo: Zaretsky & Associates

Changing the landscape inside and out

The city of Rochester several times has recognized Zaretsky & Associates for enhancing the region through green space and integration. In places where vacant lots once stood now are farmers markets, gardens, graffiti-art benches, totem poles, a chess table and even a free lending library.

Coates and Zaretsky feel a deep responsibility as successful business people to help those less fortunate than themselves, and their desire to share is the driving force behind Project Scion.

“We are fortunate to earn a nice living in our community and feel that since we can, we should give back to that community,” Coates says.

Zaretsky & Associates focuses on gardens, because as landscape designers, that’s where their expertise lies. But they also like the therapeutic nature of gardens, which have been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and promote healing.

“There are studies showing also that inner-city areas that have trees and gardens have a reduced rate of violent crime,” Coates adds.

‘Do the right thing’

Coates and Zaretsky reflect fondly on the company’s first volunteer project. It was in 1998 at Crestwood Children’s Center, an outpatient facility for children with emotional and social problems.

Using donated materials and labor, the Zaretsky & Associates team created an outdoor waiting room at the children’s center. “It was a place for them to escape the stress, as well as wait the many hours it sometimes took for their children in therapy,” Zaretsky says. “We received tremendous feedback as to how wonderful people thought the garden was,” Zaretsky adds. “It helped them.”

Local residents install pavers at Project Scion: The Orchard. Photo: Zaretsky & Associates

Local residents install pavers at Project Scion: The Orchard. Photo: Zaretsky & Associates

Nearly 20 years later, Zaretsky & Associates has cemented its relationship with residents by its 
community involvement.
With Project Scion, “we can walk into these impoverished neighborhoods long after doing the gardens and be received by the local residents 
with warmth and love,” Coates says. “It has also helped us to recognize that in the end, people 
have a lot in common.”

There’s no doubt the company is noticed for its efforts. And while its volunteerism doesn’t necessarily bring it a deluge of business, “maybe our community consciousness tips the scales” every once in a while, Coates says.

Zaretsky & Associates doesn’t have a formal policy on volunteering. It doesn’t require its team members to volunteer, but when workers do participate, they’re paid for their time.

“We don’t have a real official policy. Just do the right thing,” Zaretsky says. “Help if you can. We never say no.”


About the Author:

Geraci is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. She has worked as a professional journalist for more than 15 years, including six years as a writer for the Chicago Tribune. A graduate of Allegheny College and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Geraci began her career as an editor at a newswire service in Washington, D.C., where she edited and distributed press releases from the White House and congressional leaders. She went on to become the community news reporter at the Jackson Hole Guide newspaper, winning two national feature writing awards. Her other experience includes working as a book editor in Chicago and as a professor of business communications at Cleveland State University.

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