Walk down Buford Highway and you’ll see more concrete and asphalt than trees and flowers. It’s a corridor with heavy pedestrian traffic, but lots of dirt paths, parking lots and featureless bus stops.
Now a “guerrilla gardening” project aims to beautify the street with flowers, paving stones and other amenities installed without permission on spots that seem neglected. It’s the work of Cross Keys High School teacher Rebekah Morris and some of her students who took part in the “Buford Highway Project” assignment this year, an effort to produce youth-created visions for the corridor.
“Our class is continuing the efforts we began with the ‘BuHi Project’ during the summer,” Morris said in an email. “This isn’t officially a school assignment, but I wanted to figure out a way to keep the momentum going.”
She discovered the idea of “guerrilla gardening” and “the students immediately gravitated toward the idea,” she said. The guerrilla gardening movement began more than a decade ago in London, where its ongoing efforts are documented at guerrillagardening.org. The general idea is to add life and usefulness to ugly or car-dominated public areas.
Even with sidewalks and signalized crosswalks recently installed on the Brookhaven end, Buford Highway remains notoriously dangerous for pedestrians, and its bus stops often lack shelters or benches. A fundraising website for Morris’s project said the students are using the tactic “to provoke change by using guerrilla gardening as a form of protest/direct action.”
“These areas have been needing some love and attention for years,” Morris said. “In many places, there are piles of dirt lining the streets of Buford Highway, and we want to improve the overall appearance of the corridor by planting small flowers and plants in areas that currently are devoid of vegetation.”
Their first experiment guerrilla gardening was carried out June 1 at a MARTA bus stop in Chamblee at the corner of Buford Highway and Bragg Street. It included two large flower pots set on pavers and gravel, along with a trash can. “We will be posting small signs that encourage individuals to water the plants and empty the trash,” Morris said.
Starting June 10, Morris and the students will meet weekly at the Plaza Fiesta mall on the Brookhaven-Chamblee border for guerrilla gardening planning, then eat together at one of the restaurants on Buford Highway’s famously multicultural corridor.
Morris said she isn’t concerned about possible legal effects of beautifying public land without permission. “These aren’t trees or anything that is permanently going to change the properties,” she said. “It’s simply re-vegetating bare areas along BuHi.”
A MARTA spokesperson said the agency has no comment about guerrilla gardening of its bus stops because they’re on public right of way MARTA doesn’t own. Buford Highway is a state route where the Georgia Department of Transportation controls most of the right of way. GDOT has “no comments at this time,” a spokesperson said.
Morris is attempting to raise $500 online to fund the guerrilla gardening. She also aims to partner with nonprofits, including the transit advocacy group MARTA Army, which has a bus stop improvement effort underway. Among those listed as donors to the online fundraiser is Betsy Eggers, director of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, an effort to turn the creek corridor adjacent to Buford Highway into a park and multi-use trail.
“Hopefully, the effort is contagious as more people decide they, too, want to take ownership of their community,” Morris said.