One World Garden

Published by Cindy Buckley Koren on


One World Garden (OWG) is a 1/2 acre sacred space being proposed in the heart of one of NY State’s most impoverished older industrial cities, Utica, NY. It offers contact with nature to a high percentage of individuals of lower socioeconomic status experiencing significant life stresses. Most importantly, it is a short walk from the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees and neighborhoods that are now home to the highest percentage of refugees currently living in this UN designated refugee resettlement city.

The proposal to create a public garden in a city where 1 in 6 citizens are refugees focuses on strengthening community and enhancing the recovery process for immigrants and refugees who have experienced war, violence, and dislocation. The OWG Project is motivated and supported by a growing body of research and evidence suggesting that urban green-scapes play an important role in the positive assimilation of refugees.

OWG’s schematic design and research planning phase was undertaken with an Open Spaces Sacred Places Planning Grant in Spring 2012 and responds to OSSP’s call to “create significant new sacred public green spaces in urban settings that demonstrate a combination of high quality design-build and rigorous research about user impacts.” An interdisciplinary team of designers, researchers, and community partners engaged in a 6-month design process including community meetings and collaborative visioning sessions. From that process emerged many of the gardens signature features slated to be realized in participatory design/build sessions involving Utica’s diverse multi-cultural refugee community and local citizenry. Incorporating community members and intended users in the planning, design, and construction process extends the impact of this space by fostering community building and place attachment, lending greater meaning to the OWG for those involved in its creation.

tapestry plaza

Founded on the principles of Attention Restoration Theory (ART; Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995), OWG is designed to provide a restorative space, fostering resilience and transformation for the individuals who use it. The physical layout and configuration of the OWG were inspired by the fundamental elements described in attention restoration theory. The nature oasis, located within the heart of the city creates a sense sanctuary, or being away. The experience of soft fascination is found in the interconnecting gardens that are discovered via a path network that experientially expands discovery, provides a sense of extent, and invites exploration. OWG’s passive nature, intimacy and areas for repose, journey, reflection, meditation, and group gathering combine to foster compatibility with its designated users’ needs for renewal, retreat, social contact and restoration.

passage of cultures
flourish garden
endurance garden
refection lawn
renewal garden

A five year research project has been created to examine the influence of OWG’s nature on both individual and community well-being in a context of great challenge and adversity. Following the theme of resilience and transformation, the research will use both qualitative and quantitative methods focusing on 1) the role of nature in refugees’ resettlement experience; 2) nature as a “resilience resource” that bolsters individuals in the face of risk and adversity; 3) nature’s capacity to enhance community well-being and resilience evidenced by physical, economic, and social indicators. This research aims to generate knowledge relevant to theorists and practitioners alike seeking to understand the dose-response relation between the natural environment and resilience. It also hopes to inform policy makers seeking to develop and implement evidence-based ‘green’ intervention strategies aimed at refugee resettlement areas as well as impoverished, urban neighborhoods.


The Mohawk Valley’s resources, geography and trade routes have historically attracted those with a quest to shape and develop thriving communities. The native peoples of the Iroquois’ Oneida Nation cultivated and stewarded the land for centuries before the first Europeans arrived.  To their legacy layers of narratives and histories were added creating the ever-evolving cultural tapestry for which Utica and the Mohawk Valley are known

 Non-native settlers found new lives in the region when they began arriving in the last decades of the 18th- century. Immigrants from western Germany were followed by early waves of Irish drawn to canal and railroad building jobs. Greater numbers of immigrants followed seeking their livelihood in an area ideally situated to industry, trade and regional inter commerce.   During the Civil War era escaping slaves from the South found their way to Utica via the Underground Railroad.  Welsh immigrants, drawn to the area’s fertile and affordable land,  carved out agricultural enclaves and established Utica as America’s center of Welsh book publishing.  Immigrants from Germany and Austria became Utica’s skilled craftsman or set to work in its textile and woolen mills. They joined immigrants from Southern Italy, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Germany and Lebanon who set about creating neighborhoods, churches, temples, businesses and social and civic enterprises supporting their communities and integrating them into American life.   All faced struggles and challenges with language and cultural assimilation, displacement, negative stereotyping, bias and often marginalization and racism due to their “otherness.”   In spite of these challenges, Utica’s immigrant population is responsible for shaping making it the diverse city it is.

Since the late 1970s, Utica’s neighborhoods have been culturally transforming to include residences, businesses, mosques and temples created by refugees who have fled conflicts in the Balkans, South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.  In 2005, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Magazine– REFUGEES– deemed Utica “The Town that Loves Refugees”.  Many Uticans feel the city’s future revival, and its continued population growth, will be directly attributable to its expanding refugee community.  It is this same population of refugees that is in particular need of sacred green spaces offering individual and community renewal, regeneration and reconciliation.

One World Garden is designed to be a place that speaks to all of Utica- those with deep roots in its immigration and settlement history and those among its newest arrivals and refugee population. On one hand, its garden elements will communicate coming together, interdependence and inclusion–one part of the “one world” message.  On the other, its elements will honor and celebrate individuality, difference, strength, courage and resilience and form that part of the one world message that reminds us of what it takes for life to renew, endure and flourish even in the face of great adversity.

In One World Garden, visitors will find places, plantings, materials, phenomena and artistry harboring these interconnected and inseparable stories.

The Spiral Shelter, located equidistant from Park and Genesee Streets is One World Gardens “center” point orienting to a north-south, east-west axis found inscribed in its floor.  It acts as a portal to the One World’s Sanctuary Garden, backdrop to Tapestry Plaza and pivot point for the Passage of Cultures connecting to and from entrances at Park and Genesee Streets.Unfolding or spiraling outward from this central point are diverse One World Garden destinations reached via interconnecting paths.  Moving inside to the garden sanctuary one finds garden destinations representing endurance (the dry rock garden), reflection (the soothing meditation lawn), flourishing (the expressive cultivated flowers trees, perennials and shrubs), renewal and replenishment (the Wetland/Wild Garden) while moving outside one follows a Stories Scroll Wall and walk of cultures beckoning toward the city and its neighborhoods or enters, on a weekend or celebration day, One World’s community event space –Tapestry Plaza (this space doubles as a parking lot when not in use for events).  

The inner Sanctuary Gardens are nested and secured within a garden fence/ wall enclosure that modulates in height and levels of opacity as it surrounds becoming an expressive transparent membrane or two-sided 90’ “Stories Scroll Wall” visible from the inner Meditation Lawn and outer Passage of Cultures. Throughout the garden, linked pathways intersect interconnect garden destinations while enabling places to sit and retreat while enjoying the sound of water, soothing shade and the changing beauty of the garden as it moves through the seasons.


The One WORLD Utica logo mark is inspired by the triple spiral and modified so its three sections can more easily communicate and share with each other equally.

As the oldest symbol used in spiritual practices, the Spiral is regarded as a universal pattern of growth and evolution. It is reflected in the natural world and found in human physiology, plants, minerals, animals, energy patterns, weather, growth and death. The Spiral is a sacred symbol serving to remind us of life’s ever evolving journey.

photo: Matthew Fang

Spiral galaxies are some of the most beautiful and photogenic residents of the universe. Nearly 70 percent of the galaxies closest to the Milky Way are spirals. New research finds that spiral arms are self-perpetuating, persistent, and surprisingly long lived.

Credit: Image: European Space Agency & NASA Acknowledgements: Project Investigators for the original Hubble data: K.D. Kuntz (GSFC), F. Bresolin (University of Hawaii), J. Trauger (JPL), J. Mould (NOAO), and Y.-H. Chu (University of Illinois, Urbana) Image processing: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble) CFHT image: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope/J.-C. Cuillandre/Coelum NOAO image: George Jacoby, Bruce Bohannan, Mark Hanna/NOAO/AURA/NSF

The mandala and spiral are seamlessly embedded in One World”s design and play a major role in its narrative. Mandalas are concentric diagrams of circles and squares representing the interconnection between the inner-self and the universe or cosmos. Symbolically, the mandala’s center is both a finite and infinite point —a destination, path and portal or icon of unity between inner self and universe.  The mandala’s outer extremes signify the outside world and emanate out in the four cardinal directions.  The sacred geometries connecting the mandala’s outer edges and its center point are concentric diagrams forming a pathway between outer and inner worlds.

Categories: ABOUTTags: logospiral

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Cindy Buckley Koren

Cindy Buckley Koren is the founder of {meetinghouse} Creative Collaborative and Professor of Communications Design at PrattMWP College of Art and Design


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