Bette Midler talks trash as she works to green New York City

Town & Country Magazine
How Bette Midler Went from Beaches to Gardens

JUN 17, 2020

Bette Midler
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My favorite thing about Bette Midler is that she talks trash. Not just the kind on Twitter, but literal trash. Bette’s environmental advocacy was ingrained in her early. She grew up in Hawaii, which was green, lush, immaculate. So when she moved to New York City, you can imagine how jarring it must have been.

Trash blight was a national epidemic. It was such a problem that in 1971 a public service announcement admonished people to stop littering. (The “crying Indian” was one of the most iconic and effective advertisements ever created—Google it if you’re under 40!)

Bette’s appreciation of nature can be traced to a moment as a kid when she fell in love with a tree. “There was a huge monkeypod tree in a nearby park that was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It spoke to me,” she told me. The power of that tree and the beauty of Hawaii instilled in her a belief that access to nature is a human right and necessity.

“Who said I wasn’t burned out? I am! I’m cinders and ash—don’t I look it?”

Bette Midler

This explains why she has done something so special for a star of her caliber: starting the nonprofit New York Restoration Project and being its lead fundraiser and loudest cheerleader for 25 years, during which it has created and maintained 52 community gardens, built 300 green spaces at schools across New York City, and managed and restored 80 acres of city parkland.

Raising the funds to keep it all going is a challenge. When I asked Bette how she continues year after year, she said, “Who said I wasn’t burned out? I am! I’m cinders and ash—don’t I look it?” She doesn’t—I can vouch for her high energy and maximum effort. “Fundraising is the hard part. But starting these gardens has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “To take a park or garden that has been neglected and breathe new life into it, then turn it over to a community that will cherish it, that is my greatest reward.”

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