Bette Midler‘s MillionTreesNYC Keeps the City Green
BY JOHN BOBEY
Back in 1971, Dr. Seuss introduced us to a determined little environmentalist known as the Lorax. In the book that bears his name, the Lorax stands alone against the greedy Once-ler, who is hell-bent on chopping down all the precious truffula trees to make his dreaded thneeds.
The Lorax: I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. And Iâ€™m asking you sir, at the top of my lungs. Whatâ€™s that thing youâ€™ve made out of my truffula tree?
The Once-ler: Look, Lorax, calm down. Thereâ€™s no cause for alarm. I chopped just one tree, Iâ€™m doing no harm. This thing is most useful! This thing is a â€œthneed.â€ A thneed, a fine something-that-all-people-need! Itâ€™s a shirt. Itâ€™s a sock. Itâ€™s a glove! Itâ€™s a hat! But it has other uses, yes, far beyond that. You can use it for carpets, for pillows, for sheets, for curtains! Or covers for bicycle seats!
While a thriving thneed industry may have been part of a stimulus package for the Loraxâ€™s forest, in the end it left a once lush and beautiful place barren. (Not cool, Once-ler.) It wasnâ€™t long ago that a similar threat was facing some of New Yorkâ€™s green spacesâ€”that is, until a champion of our own spoke up to save the day. All hail Bette Midler, the Divine Miss Lorax, and her New York Restoration Project!
The Divine Miss M Goes Green
Back in 1995, Midler saw that too many of New Yorkâ€™s parks and community gathering spaces were in a serious state of neglect. Some were an unusable mess. With the help of a few friends and a never-say-die attitude, Bette set about cleaning up the garbage from Fort Tryon and Fort Washington parks. The good deed had her hooked, and she founded the NYRP soon thereafter.
In 1999, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced plans to sell 114 community gardens to developers. Bette and her NYRP knew that the last thing that New York needed was fewer community gardens, so she set about partnering with other nonprofits and raised enough money to buy them. All 114. Thatâ€™s the kind of scrappy, grassroots thinking coupled with huge, tangible results that has come to define the NYRPâ€™s work.
Perhaps the most ambitious project theyâ€™ve spearheaded is MillionTreesNYC. As you may have guessed from the programâ€™s name, the goalâ€”carried out in coordination with the NYC Department of Parks & Recreationâ€”is to plant and care for 1 million new trees across the five boroughs in 10 years. The initiative was launched in October of 2007, and by this October they will be halfway there. Not too shabbyâ€”and remember, she can sing, too!
All that â€œgreeningâ€ is hard work, so what better way to relax than by donning a costume at NYRPâ€™s annual Hulaween fundraising gala? The â€œhulaâ€ is in recognition of Betteâ€™s Hawaiian background (she was born in Honolulu), and we all know where â€œweenâ€ comes from. The dress code, as stated on the invitation, is â€œCostumes or Else.â€ This year, its 16th, the much-anticipated gala has a theme of Dia de los Muertos (the Mexican Day of the Dead) and will take place on October 28th at the Waldorf-Astoria. Each Hulaween seems to top the previous: Last year Senator John Kerry was honored and Paul Simon provided the entertainment, and this time around, Stevie Wonder will take the stage. Like last year, the no-holds-barred costume contest will be judged by fashion designer Michael Kors. No pressure.
When asked what the event means to her, Ms. Midler was at no loss for words. â€œHulaween is our biggest fundraiser of the year, and Iâ€™m happy to say that after 16 years, New Yorkers look forward to it and start planning their costumes months in advance,â€ she kvelled. â€œItâ€™s the one opportunity we have to throw a party that not only reflects the work we do, but is fun, full of surprises and totally different from every other event in the city. This year my friend Stevie Wonder is performingâ€”need I say more? And of course, the money we raise is vital to keeping the programs of NYRP going strong, and we are grateful for the generous support we get from our friends.â€
There you have it: proof, once again, that good people do great things in and for this city, and throw one heck of a party afterward. Be a part of itâ€”head to nyrp.org and give what you can. Not only will you be doing something great for our city, but youâ€™ll have earned the right to proclaim that you, too, speak for the trees.
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