Abandoned properties in Baltimore’s Oliver neighbourhood
Where to build a freeway became not only an economic decision, but also a moral one – a chance to uplift and sweep clean America’s ghettos. But were they ghettos?
Abandoned properties in Baltimore’s Oliver neighbourhood
Where to build a freeway became not only an economic decision, but also a moral one – a chance to uplift and sweep clean America’s ghettos. But were they ghettos?
We transform Detroit vacant lots into urban bee farms for the community. We focus on a three part mission: (1) Eliminating blight in the City of Detroit by repurposing vacant lots. (2) Preserve the conservation of Honey Bees. (3) Provide tours and bee education for the community.
Source: Detroit Hives – The Place to Bee
THE WASHINGTON POST/GETTY IMAGES
“I thought: Can we measure this correlation of clustering of vacant houses the same way we made measurements about astronomy,” says Budavári. Next to unpacking the mysteries of the universe, Braverman says, “working with us would be relatively easy.”
[Vacant buildings, 400 block of Park Avenue (west side), Baltimore, MD (Photo Credit: Flickr/Eli Pousson)]
The idea is modeled after the 1973 “Dollar House” program, which sold rundown, city-owned houses for $1 and helped revitalize ravaged neighborhoods in the city throughout the 1980s. The original program also granted buyers low-interest loans to rehabilitate the properties as long as they lived in the homes for a certain amount of time.
The Packard Plant’s south water tower stands above the crumbling complex in November 2010, only a few months before it, too, was brought down by scrappers. (Photo: Brian Kaufman, Detroit Free Press)
“Many of these buildings abut residential neighborhoods in some of the city’s most disadvantaged areas,” the report says. “Without a strategic approach to repurposing these properties, they will remain fallow for years to come, posing threats to public health and safety, and undermining Detroit’s recovery.”
Qian Wan , a mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate at SEAS, and co-author Bradley Pough, a J.D. candidate, provide data-driven recommendations city officials can use to battle urban housing blight.
Their paper, “Digital Analytics and the Fight Against Blight: A Guide for Local Leaders,” examines the problem of urban housing blight, identifies best practice uses of data analytics, and provides data-driven recommendations for municipal officials.
A man walks through a vacant lot in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)
In other words, rather than wielding code enforcement as a way to punish offenders or extract revenue, Schilling argues that the wellbeing of residents ought to be restored as housing policy’s central purpose. “We need to return housing back to its roots,” he says. “Housing codes were initially framed as a way to protect public health. While there’s still some of that, it’s so often become secondary.”
The spokesperson Mark Carter said NHS, CIC and Globe Trotters organizations were supposed to help their parents and grandparents but instead they allowed the city to demolish their homes.
This is a row of four townhouses on East Grand Boulevard, three blocks from East Jefferson. If you stand on the sidewalk you can see the Detroit River – right where cars turn to reach Belle Isle. That’s what gives the area its name: Islandview. Paula Gardner | PaulaGardner@mlive.com
Detroit is still a city balancing rapid redevelopment downtown with slowly rebounding real estate market – and 90,000 vacant houses.
A pair of surviving rowhomes surrounded by vacant lots at dusk in Baltimore. The city has some 17,000 vacant buildings. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Budavari and Phil Garboden, a doctoral student in sociology and applied math, are working on a statistical tool to predict abandonment. They’re combining publicly available data with GIS technology to create a database of the city’s housing stock. This will serve as a base to do high-level statistical analyses that can help officials make better, data-driven evaluations of current and future interventions. It could help Baltimore study, among other things, when and why homes are abandoned, and at what point a vacant home starts affecting nearby properties.
Before and after photos of a blighted property in Philadelphia. SOURCE/PENN URBAN HEALTH LAB
Based on these figures and the initial cost of remediation, the first-year return on investment to taxpayers for firearm assaults averted was $5 per abandoned building and $26 per vacant lot. The societal first-year returns on investment for firearm assaults averted were $79 for the remediation of an abandoned building and $333 for the greening of a vacant lot.“The immeasurable pain and void left when lives are lost to firearm violence sends a ripple effect through families and neighborhoods,” said Branas, director of the Penn Urban Health Lab. “This study demonstrates sustainable, replicable strategies that successfully reduce firearm violence. They can transform communities across the country, save lives, and provide well more than a full return on investment to taxpayers and their communities.”
Hops successfully grow up the retaining wall on a lot in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The black circles at the base of the plants are old plastic drum barrels that were cut into rings and filled with mulch from a nearby community compost. This helps to keep the hops moist. (Pete Bell)
After all, many of the growing number of craft breweries in Pittsburgh source their hops from non-local suppliers, like those in Oregon and Washington. Plus, hops seemed relatively easier: You can avoid the pest problems you face with other urban crops, since hops are so bitter. They also grow vertically, so they need little space on the ground. “I came up with an idea to grow brewing crops … to be used locally in a beer to be able to create a truly local beer,” Bell says.
FROM URBAN BLIGHT TO FARM: Planting is ongoing at Trenton’s Capital City Farm, a joint effort of several non-profit groups that has turned a trash-strewn lot into a verdant space designed to provide fresh produce and more to the local community and beyond.
While Capital City Farm is only in its first season, there are signs that it is having the desired effect. “People are curious,” Ms. Mead said, “especially those who come to the Soup Kitchen. Some teenagers from the neighborhood are excited about working on the farm. People are stopping by. It’s been an interesting thing to watch.”
Located on Jamaica Avenue, the climate-controlled greenhouse is on the roof of a four-story manufacturing building that formerly housed the Ideal Toy Company. Slated to produce over 5 million heads of pesticide-free leafy greens each year for the New York market, the urban farm was installed with advanced automated greenhouse technologies using various efficient and renewable energy components.
The 1000 block of North Stricker Street in west Baltimore’s Sandton-Winchester neighborhood, is slated for the demolition. Photographer: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Demolishing an abandoned building may be less complicated than figuring out what to do with the land it stood on. Detroit has sold land to neighboring home owners for $100 a lot, and it has experimented with a program to use vacant lots to prevent storm water from flooding the sewage system. In Baltimore, Hogan’s plan includes $600 million in redevelopment funding that may one day lead to new, affordable apartments and supermarkets. Initially, most lots will probably be converted into parks.
RecoveryPark Farms Detroit – rendering
Under the $15 million project, a 22-block area around the former Chene-Ferry Market will be transformed into a center of urban agriculture and hope for marginalized residents with significant barriers to employment. According to Duggan, 35 acres of city-owned land will be leased to the nonprofit organization from the Detroit Land Bank Authority for $105 per acre per year. In exchange, RecoveryPark will secure or demolish all vacant, blighted structures and replace them with massive greenhouses and hoop houses to grow produce.
DeCaprio is the head of Land Action, a nonprofit that he created in 2011 to assist tenants with eviction defense. Two months ago, Land Action launched a campaign to build one hundred micro farms in Oakland over the next five years. The farms will be anchored by tiny homes — less than 120 square feet in size — that will house low-income Oakland residents.
The plan hinges on the use of so-called “tax-defaulted property” — land that is worth less than the taxes owed on it. In Alameda County, tax-defaulted parcels typically have been abandoned by their owners and can be publicly auctioned after five years. But attracting buyers willing to pay the back taxes and fines can be challenging.
Despite the city’s strategy of auctioning blighted properties, houses like this remain 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. Vandals have stripped the home’s cypress floors and other architectural artifacts. Debbie Elliott/NPR
“We’ve still got a lot of blight. We’re by no means done,” says Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin. He says the city of New Orleans is waging an aggressive battle against blight, and has made inroads.
“We’ve either fixed up or demolished somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 units, as a city,” he says.
A poll by NPR and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a little more than half of the people in New Orleans agree that progress has been made on dealing with destroyed and abandoned homes and other properties.
“The house up the street has stuff coming out of it. It keeps piling up. Where is the ticket for that? It just doesn’t make sense.” Devlin said.
In November, 7 Action News Reporter Ronnie Dahl exposed dozens of blighted properties owned by Perfecting Church. Some are vacant lots with illegally dumped debris. Others are abandoned homes, sitting wide open. One house, close to a school, was being used as a drug den.
Reducing blight and preventing its spread is best achieved when the solution incorporates the interest and input of active and engaged citizens. Whether it’s reporting abandoned houses to local authorities via an app or participating in public meetings to find the best way cities or neighborhoods can utilize vacant lots, solving these problems is best served from the bottom-up.
Technology is helping citizen engagement find a solution to urban decay. And many cities are starting to harness innovative civic tech products to begin to repair and rebuild some of the country’s most severely affected areas.
“As far as we’ve been able to tell, there are not actually any antiblight clinics that operate this way,” said Schaffzin, a clinical professor at the law school. “The goal is for students to understand blight from a policy perspective and from a neighborhood-impact perspective.”
Detroit has been demolishing vacant and dilapidated structures for decades. But the effort could never keep pace with the need, with derelict factories, burned-out houses and trash-heaped lots becoming the subject of “ruin porn” viewed around the world.
But the effort to rid itself of blight ramped up earlier this year thanks to several related efforts.
I have traveled extensively throughout North and South America; and having seen countless cities in varying states of dilapidation, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect in Detroit. I was wrong.
Exiting the interstate was like entering another country. The sheer magnitude of decay and devastation in Detroit is overwhelming. The number of derelict buildings literally falling apart, the piles of rubble and litter all over the streets and sidewalks, the fact that there was so little police presence in some areas, or so little human presence at all, was eerily unsettling.
The Land Bank buys a vacant property that is still valuable and “banks” it for rehabilitation, or demolition to be re-sold and returned to the tax rolls.
“The entire community starts picking itself up once you start removing the blight,” says Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski.
The mayor says the Land Bank is helping his city, which he says can no longer afford to “fight the blight” on its own.
“With the Land Bank, we will be able to refurbish homes that are not in blighted condition, refurbish them, and sell them to somebody who wants to become a responsible homeowner,” he explained.
“Some of these cities waited for somebody to come and solve their problems for them. That day is no longer with us,” Uwe Brandes, executive director of the Masters Program in Urban and regional Planning at Georgetown University, said.
Since 2010, eight cities and towns have filed for bankruptcy. The economic crisis has led residents to join forces to find creative ways to rescue and rebuild their communities.
“My friend and I had this idea, well, why don’t we just grow food in the city. Seems like a really easy plan right?” Cheryl Carmona, in Baltimore, Md., said.
From that idea grew Boone Street Farm, an urban garden in a rundown East Baltimore neighborhood.
Great article in the New York Times this week on blight in California.
Ms. McLaughlin if you are reading this, we are solidly behind you and Richmond. If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know!
The mayor’s plan would buy and refinance underwater mortgages in an attempt to save the city from more boarded-up houses. Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Ms. McLaughlin has a plan to help the many Richmond residents who owe more money on their houses than their houses are worth, but it’s one that banks like Wells Fargo, large asset managers like
Pimco and BlackRock, real estate interests and even Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants, have tried to quash. Her idea involves a novel use of the power of eminent domain to bail out homeowners by buying up and then forgiving mortgage debt.
But the financial institutions have warned that mortgage lending would halt in any city that tried eminent domain — and they have lobbied Congress to ensure that the threat is not an empty one. Opponents have filed federal lawsuits, while real estate interests have made robocalls to residents and sent mass mailers warning that the plan would allow “slick, politically connected” investors to “take houses on the cheap.” (The idea is actually to buy mortgages, not houses.)
The technique of demolition under cover of night has to stop. It is common practice to bulldoze community sensitive places, like historical buildings or in this example – gardens with animals.
It is unethical for developers to demolish buildings and raze structures under cover of darkness without advanced notification to the community.
We really need to address the permitting processes at the government level if we are going to change this grievous practice. Then make it punishable by law and preferable jail-time for developer perpetrators.
Community activists told the NY Post that construction workers waited until 5 a.m. on the morning of December 28th to begin the abrupt demolition. According to witnesses, work crews first gathered and moved the 20 chickens living in the garden to pet carriers outside the plot, however it seems that dozens of cats, rabbits, and pigeons fled before the machines moved in. Soon after, backhoes and bulldozers rolled in, tearing apart plots that have grown everything from hundreds of pounds of tomatoes, cabbage, zucchinis, and other vegetables.
Fantastic article, read the entire piece here. This is a great model for inspiring change, Carol Ott and the artists are heroes in our book.
Baltimore artists have painted murals on 17 vacant buildings, including the house shown. Blogger Carol Ott, who advised them, faces vandalism suits. Jonathan Hanson for The Wall Street Journal
Since early 2009, Carol Ott has run a website called Baltimore Slumlord Watch. On an almost daily basis, she posts photographs of boarded-up or dilapidated buildings and the names and addresses of owners she identifies through public records.
Last month, Ms. Ott was sued for her role in a recent project in which artists painted murals on 17 vacant buildings in the city. Two civil lawsuits filed in state court in Baltimore allege the work was an act of vandalism at two properties and seek $5,000 to restore the buildings to their prior condition.
“We’re using these methods because nothing else has been working,” said the street artist who organized the project with $12,000 from an anonymous donor and goes by the name Nether. He counted it as a victory that one of the 17 properties has since been demolished.
A private company is snapping up 150 acres on the Motor City’s East End — property where more than 1,000 homes once formed a gritty neighborhood — and turning it into what is being billed as the world’s largest urban farm. Hantz Woodlands plans to start by planting trees, but hopes to raise crops and even livestock in the future, right in the midst of the once-proud city.
Hantz needed approval from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to buy up the 1,500 parcels for approximately $450,000, or $300 per parcel. Many of the parcels held dilapidated and abandoned homes and buildings and were condemned by the city. Others were rubble-strewn or weed-choked lots. The company intends to spend $3 million to clean out the areas.
“Your eyes would have a hard time absorbing the blight,” Score said. “A third of every neighborhood in Detroit has been devalued by blight on public property.
Many property owners who break anti-blight laws would face tougher penalties under bills approved Thursday in the state House. Under the legislation, the worst offenders could spend up to a year behind bars.
State Rep. Amanda Price (R-Park Township) says a number of Michigan cities have good anti-blight laws on the books. But she says the consequences for breaking those laws aren’t tough enough to deter people.
“So it puts the teeth into what those cities are trying to do in eliminating blight,” said Price.
Bank of America is accused of failing to maintain foreclosed homes it owns in minority neighborhoods in Toledo, a charge the bank denies, saying it markets its properties regardless of location.
The NFHA first filed a complaint against Bank of America in September, 2012, alleging the Charlotte bank had neglected homes in many working-class minority neighborhoods nationwide, violating the Fair Housing Act.
With Thursday’s announcement, the complaint now includes 20 metro areas.
In Toledo, fair housing officials visited 22 properties they said were owned by Bank of America. Eight were in predominantly black neighborhoods. Fourteen were in predominantly white neighborhoods.
NFHA said the properties in the predominantly black neighborhoods were four and a half times more likely to have substantial trash on the lot. The organization said two of the eight properties had unsecured, broken, or boarded doors. None of the 14 properties in a white neighborhood had that problem, officials said.
Cleveland has just unveiled the world’s first BioCellar, a sustainable agriculture project that’s a smart mix of urban design, architecture, and biology. Built upon the masonry foundation of an abandoned house, the passive greenhouse is a stunning example of how an urban renewal project can bring fresh produce and life to a food desert in a blighted neighborhood.
City administrators agreed to lease Brooks the land for $100 a year for five years. Since then, Brooks, who works as an usher at San Francisco Giants games and officiates high school sports in the off-season, has filled the lot with raspberries, tomatoes growing like weeds, several varieties of onions, potatoes, artichokes, garlic, zucchini and other veggies.
For Richmond applauds the changes residents like Brooks are bringing to Richmond. This initiative is what built Richmond in the past and what will bring about its improvement in the future.
“People are taking pride in this community,” said Dr. Desmond Carson, a physician at Doctors Medical Center, the For Richmond health chair and a local parks advocate. “Not only are neighbors cleaning up blight, but they are practicing a green approach to putting fresh food on the tables here in Richmond. It improves so many aspects of the quality of life here. Residents are getting fresh food, they’re gardening, getting outside and exercising. And they’re making these neighborhoods more appealing.”
Brooks’ effort has been contagious. Now, neighbors want to turn another empty lot down the street into a park. And residents in the community are drawn to Brooks’ creation, stopping to chat, check on the watermelon plants and offer to help.
“That’s the fun thing about this garden. Folks are inspired by what we’re doing here and they want to get involved,” Brooks said.
Brooks found a way to create a sustainable garden – using recycled plastic bottles to help with irrigation – and another community member and artist created a greenhouse made of wine bottles.
The property includes several pumping stations that used to provide water to the city. Those historic structures will be renovated to include a commercial kitchen that will serve as a food incubator for small businesses, including caterers. Land surrounding those buildings will include portable greenhouses known as “hoop houses” along the train tracks running alongside the parcel.
Partnerships are planned with Woodberry Kitchen, a restaurant that is seeking local produce for its menu offerings, and the nonprofit Humanim, which is planning a community kitchen on the site.
Devan said the project will create 100 construction jobs and eventually 100 permanent jobs.
BDC President Brenda McKenzie said the project will also be beneficial to the city and the neighborhood by providing access to healthy foods through a farmers market planned for the site.
“It’s also important in terms of reactivating that part of East Baltimore,” McKenzie said. “There’s been a lot of research done that shows foodie culture is another way for people to look at the city differently.”
Detroit, which filed an $18 billion bankruptcy July 18, is reeling from the loss of more than 435,000 jobs in its metro area from 2000 to 2010, according to federal data.
Greg Willerer is embracing urban agriculture in Detroit. By selling at farmers markets, local restaurants and a community-supported agriculture project that sells his goods directly to consumers, Willerer said he can make $20,000 to $30,000 per acre in a year.
This has left it with an abundance of underused property. The city is spread over 139 square miles and has an estimated 150,000 vacant and abandoned parcels, according to a report this year by Detroit Future City, a planning project created by community leaders.
Converting some of that land to farming could clean up blight and grow jobs, regional officials say. With sufficient consumer demand and the emergence of a local food-processing industry, 4,700 jobs and $20 million in business taxes could be generated, according to a 2009 study.
“It will help,” said Mike DiBernardo, an economic development specialist with Michigan’s agriculture department. “We have so much blighted land that we can create opportunities for entrepreneurs, and we can give people in the community something to be excited about.”
In the past two years, Alexander and his Community Progress team — which includes Emory Law alumni Leslie Powell and Sara Toering — have also aided the passage of land bank legislation in Georgia, Missouri, New York and Pennsylvania.
Simply put, land banks offer an effective tool for public officials to acquire, hold, manage, develop and/or resell problem properties, putting them back into productive use for neighborhood restoration, community investment and development, Alexander says.
And in recent years, the demand for help with establishing land banking reforms has only grown. “One of the reasons we created the Center for Community Progress was simply the volume of requests we were receiving from around the country,” he explains.
For struggling communities, the costs can be considerable: A 2010 study commissioned in Philadelphia found vacant and abandoned properties cost the city more than $20 million in annual maintenance costs and $2 million annually in lost tax revenues — not to mention the impact to community vitality and cohesion, Alexander notes.
FLINT, MI — Michigan has received approval to spend $100 million in federal funds to demolish thousands of vacant homes in Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Pontiac and Saginaw.
So how will this affect those communities, as well as the state of Michigan? How is blight eroding your urban neighborhood?
At 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 18, MLive-Flint Journal will host a live chat in the comments of this post on blight issues with local legislators, officials and a representative from MSHDA.
State Senator Linda Coleman.
“There are people who would develop or rehabilitate some of these old, historic houses if they can get ownership of some of these properties,” Coleman said.
Under the new rules, the state will waive its lien and transfer the state’s interest to the new local land banks.
Local governments may then offer the property to entities for redevelopment. The new law also expands notification provisions for property owners who are still allowed to redeem their properties if they pay the back taxes.
Coleman stressed that the law was not designed to take away an owner’s property, but to put long abandoned land back to productive use.
Coleman and city officials said the provision opens several possibilities for Birmingham, including residential redevelopment and economic development.
“Economic development people are already trying to assemble sites for people who want to come here. The problem is you’ve got a piece in the middle with no clear title to it. This whole current process caused blight. This was always the missing piece because the process was too cumbersome.”
There are over 40,000 vacant lots in the City of Philadelphia. These lots are eyesores and become places where crime and pollution are common. Unemployment in Philadelphia is 11.6%, meaning that 1 out of every 8 people cannot find work.
GrowShare is an online resource committed to helping citizens find jobs, clean up their community, decrease crime, and beautify their neighborhood.
Visualize Urban Ideas
GrowShare uses Google Maps & Places to provide a geospatial view of ideas in urban neighborhoods.
Recession & Bureaucracy Proof
As long as the Internet is up, your GrowShare.net’s projects and resources will continue to receive contracts on your terms.
Finding the True Cost of a Project
Project estimates are estimates. The true cost of a project is only found when it’s done. Because GrowShare.net gives every project it’s own webpage, all data for a project is aggregated in the same place. This allows users to see the true cost of each project.
Auction ensures the fairest compensation for civic resource exchanges at different levels.
GrowShare gathers city data like crime & vacant lots to help users grow & share.
Open Source Technologies
We have deployed the following Open Source technologies for this project:
Google Map API
Google Places API
WeBid Auction Engine
MySQL database with temporal and spatial datasets
Twitter, FB and g+ APIs
jQuery Mobile 1.2.0
For this alpha release, we have tapped the following data sources:
Google Maps and Google Places
Vacant Lots, City of Philadelphia
Recreation and parks, City of Philadelphia
The GrowShare.net team is led by Professor Justin Y. Shi, Associate Professor and Associate Chairman of CIS Department at Temple University.
Kristiyan Georgiev | Graduate Ph.D. Candidate | CIS Department, College of Science and Technology
Brett M Statman | Senior Undergraduate | Digital Media, Tyler School of Art
William S Mantegna | Senior Undergraduate | MIS Department, Fox School of Business
Han-Lin Wu | Graduate MS Candidate | ECE Department, School of Engineering
It’s not every day that a former prison work camp is given new life as a place to grow food. But that’s exactly what’s happening in Peoria, Ill., where Hanna City, the shuttered facility that was also once a home for delinquent boys and a 1950s Air Force radar base, is being reborn as a food hub and farm incubator site.
Go read this inspiring article via This old prison in Illinois may be transformed into a farming paradise | Grist.
And it’s not only the culinary students who take part in running the urban farm, Block said. Students from the center’s construction training programs also have participated by providing infrastructure on the 1 acre.
Block said she has no doubt that the farm is one of the draws for culinary students to choose Treasure Island over other Job Corps centers in the country. Of all the programs nationwide, Treasure Island has the highest overall job placement – 85 percent either go to work, into the military or enroll in college, according to the center.
Q: It couldn’t have been easy planting a farm on an artificial island made from fill dredged from the bay, which served as a former military base. Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found some parts of the island to be toxically contaminated, how did you handle that?
A: It was a vacant lot when we got it – just sand. We did thousands of dollars worth of testing before we did anything. Then we built the whole thing using green construction – reclaimed materials, rain water catchment and an aquaponic system.
Q: What are you growing?
A: Everything. We have 80 fruit trees: apples, pears, stone and citrus and all kinds of vegetables and herbs. We have bee hives, 20 laying hens and a rooster. We get about 20 eggs a day. The students are harvesting, depending on the season, anywhere from 200 to 600 pounds of produce a month. A hundred percent of it is used either in the culinary program or the cafeteria.
“Thank you for notifying the community about vacant land! I pass the lot on Myrtle between Marcy and Nostrand very often, and I always enjoy looking at the herbs and wildflowers growing there. I thought it would be a wonderful spot for a small urban farm, but I figured it might have been owned by whoever owns the condos surrounding it. You taught me different.” Email recieved on July 1, 2011, about 10 days after labeling the lot in question.
596 Acres is helping neighbors form connections to the vacant public lots in their lives.
Hundreds of acres of vacant public land exist in New York City, hidden in plain sight behind chain-link fences in neighborhoods where green space and other public amenities are scarce. We are building the tools for communities to get the keys legally and unlock all these rusty gates—and the opportunities within them. These include:
(1) making municipal information available through an online interactive map;
(2) placing signs on vacant public land that explain each lot’s status and steps that the community can take in order to be able to use this land;
(3) visioning sessions for education about public land holdings by invitation from community groups;
(4) engaging the community when an interested potential leader reaches out; and
(5) direct advocacy with New York City agencies.
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/35546744 w=400&h=300]
via 596 Acres: About Us.
Really insightful article on the benefit of quantifying community gardens to policy makers.
“Gardeners are Philadelphia’s vacant land stewards,” says Cahn. “Yet from a policy perspective, the city still views urban agriculture as a temporary activity.”
“The surveys project helps tell both stories — of the resurgent interest in gardens and the continued need to preserve them.”
Specifically, the research has revealed improving conditions for Philadelphia’s community gardens. “Gardens and farms have increased by over 100 in the past four years,” Cahn says. The survey data will help her make a legal case for gardens across the city.
These surveys add to a large body of research on the benefits of gardening on vacant land. A recent study by another University of Pennsylvania researcher found that planting gardens on empty lots reduced violence in the surrounding area. Further research is needed to tell whether it’s the gardeners themselves or their plants that are driving away gangbangers.
Read the entire article via Counting the harvest: How numbers can save urban gardens | Grist.
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/46043234 w=400&h=300]
At a gathering of Central Jersey organic farmers recently — it was a potluck — I listened in on a conversation between two of the veteran farmers in the room. They weren’t exactly elderly; they just weren’t in their 20s like almost everyone else in attendance. The two farmers discussed how a decade ago, the same potluck would have been a quiet, sparsely populated affair. Tonight the room was alive.
It won’t stay that way unless we find those youngsters some well-drained Garden State farmland to call their own. I suspect it’s the same story all across this nation.
Read the entire article via For young farmers: No land, but plenty of climate change to go around | Grist.
Bay Area locavores and caterpillars rejoice: An edible urban jungle is poised to sprout in San Francisco.
City supervisors approved legislation Tuesday that will help grassroots farming groups replace barren concrete and forests of weeds on vacant land and rooftops with veggie gardens, chicken coops, and honeybee hives. And the move cements San Francisco’s role as a national leader in urban food production.
“[San Franciscans] are thought of as foodies, and environmentalists,” said Laura Tam, a policy director at the nonprofit San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (SPUR), which helped push the new rules forward. “This is a marrying of our sustainability objectives with the reputation that we have in the world.”
The legislation [PDF] follows zoning changes last year that made it easier to operate small farms and legal to sell food grown in San Francisco. This new set of laws will take it further by removing additional bureaucratic barriers for hopeful gardeners and actively searching for land they can use while providing them with seeds, tools, and advice.
A major focus of the bill is community gardening — neighbors coming together to organize, till, and cultivate plots of land in mini-farms that are managed cooperatively.
Aided by $120,000 in city funding in its first year, the Urban Agriculture Program will hire a city official or nonprofit organization to oversee all community gardening within San Francisco. The city’s utility agency will also provide additional funds to support two farms on land that it owns.
The program will audit city-owned land and rooftops in a quest to dig up potential new public gardening sites. It will also develop incentives for owners of vacant lots to allow their land to be used for community farming.
Passage of the bill follows a rise in popularity of urban farming nationally, which has been fueled by the locavore and organic food movements, and by the recession, which has left lots vacant and families hungry.
What happens when you get everyday people thinking about the challenges that have occupied city planners for years — and give them the tools to do something about it? The City 2.0 project recently caught our attention for doing just that, and now we’ve seen nonprofits like the Network Center for Community Change in Kentucky and People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) in New York using this people-powered approach to tackle a key issue in creating sustainable, livable neighborhoods: vacant buildings and lots.
Network Center for Community Change, a community action group based in Louisville, has been mapping neighborhoods to identify vacant lots and houses that need renovation, along with more stable pieces of property. In so doing, it aims to help the community make decisions that better reflect local conditions and needs. Once these “opportunities for improvement” have been established, the group mobilizes residents and other stakeholders to work with municipal authorities in developing strategic redevelopment projects that will boost local property values, increase quality of life in the neighborhood, and/or create jobs.
The Network started this Louisville initiative back in 2010 because it realized that official statistics concerning vacant properties in the area were often inaccurate, often by as much as 30 percent in either direction. Having accurate numbers, in terms of neighborhood vacancies, has aided the group in getting local elected officials on board with the development/redevelopment projects deemed most critical by the people who actually live and work in these communities.
In Buffalo, a related effort is underway with the Green Development Zone, a project of PUSH. This grassroots effort began with the intention of creating a new community economy in a blighted 25-square block area of the city’s West Side — which, like many urban areas across the country, was faced with deteriorating housing, hundreds of vacant lots, and fewer and fewer jobs for local residents. In 2005, residents discovered that a New York State housing agency was using these vacant houses and lots in Buffalo to speculate on Wall Street; the organization formed and proceeded to launch a militant campaign in response to this that resulted in millions of dollars for the state’s neighborhoods through New York’s Block by Block program.
Using people power, PUSH was able to start rehabilitating neglected housing on the West Side. In 2011, those efforts paid off in widespread recognition, as the Green Development Zone initiative was one of three programs from a list of dozens of sustainable housing efforts around the world to win the award for Sustainable Housing: Collaborating for Livable and Inclusive Cities from Ashoka Changemakers, an organization dedicated to collaboration in the service of affecting global change.
Through this and other programs, PUSH has succeeded in insulating and winterizing older homes in Buffalo, developing new green affordable housing units, building the city’s first Net-Zero Energy House, and a major park renovation/improvement (created with widespread community input), as well as turning numerous vacant properties into community gardens and rain gardens.
A key tool used by both campaigns has been maps of vacant areas created based on reports from community residents. By creating publicly available maps of vacant areas in need of improvement, these community groups are paving the way to neighborhood improvement at the grassroots level.
Not too long ago, we turned some of the most productive agricultural land in the world into suburbs. The business of building homes has slowed since the 2008 recession, but it continues to be true that no matter how well-suited a spot was to growing food, if a developer wants to make money, they’ll cover farmland with houses.
In the aftermath of the housing bubble, interesting signs have begun to suggest that the economics of dirt may be shifting. In fact it might one day be more valuable to grow food on a plot of land than to plop a house down on top of it. A few farmers recently made a killing buying back the farms they’d cashed out on. Meanwhile, the value of farmland in Iowa has increased by 33 percent, setting off speculation that farmland could be the next bubble. (It’s a bubble fueled by corn for ethanol and therefore food for cars instead of people, but still, it holds promise.) And then there is the matter of the failed shopping mall in Cleveland that began doing double-duty as a greenhouse.
All of this raises the question: What about those farms that have already been converted into subdivisions? Once someone has thoughtfully poured concrete over most of your neighborhood, should you try to un-concrete it and make it a farm again? Could the McMansions of Brentwood become fertile fields again?
Science says yes, absolutely. You wouldn’t want to tear up asphalt (it’s regrettably full of carcinogenic hydrocarbons), but concrete is a different story — and it’s fairly non-toxic. According to Garrison Sposito, chair of the soil sciences division at the University of California-Berkeley, the soil underneath can be unearthed, and put to work. But it will take time before it really comes back to life, he warns. Much of what makes soil grow plants well are creatures like worms and microfauna that would not have hung around under the sidewalk once most of the air and water disappeared. They would have hightailed it out of there.
That said, Sposito adds, the top foot of dirt in any urban area is never going to be great for farming at first. It could be filled with trash, construction debris, weedkiller, and lead from automobile exhaust. All these things require different levels of remediation; for instance lead is often treated with ground-up fish bones [PDF].
People looking to farm in urban areas say that smashing concrete and making way for food is possible, but with qualifications. “Most of the time you can simply use a sledgehammer and break it into chunks,” writes Patrick Crouch, who farms at Earthworm Farm in Detroit. “Then use a large steel bar to get underneath and pry it up.” Concrete, he adds, is heavy. “I have spent hours, no, days, breaking it up, and I can tell you that while there are certain enjoyable aspects of the process, most of it is back-breaking work.” The high alkalinity of the soil in Detroit is a direct result of being surrounded by so much concrete, according to Crouch. Quicklime, which is used in making cement, has a way of harshing the soil around it.
The largest lot Crouch has ever cleared, he says, was about two-thirds of an acre. The crew took a bulldozer and scraped the site down to the subsoil. They grew food the first year it was planted, but it took at least 12 years of composting and cover crops to get close to approximating anything like Crouch’s ideal of a good pile of dirt.
So, can it be done? Yes. Should you try it? That depends on how much you like hitting things with a sledgehammer. Or how effective you are at persuading other people to hit things with a sledgehammer. Either way, you won’t have to break up a layer of concrete more than once to gain a whole new appreciation for the importance of keeping fertile soil from being paved over in the first place.
Heather Smith writes about art, science, bugs, & democracy.
It’s our dream to rejuvenate our city by returning to our agrarian roots, by creating the world’s largest urban farm right here in Detroit, a sustainable producer of agricultural goods. Owned, operated and staffed by Detroiters, Hantz Farms will provide:
Green jobs for local residents. We’ll help Detroit progress to the mixed economy that’s so important for our future.
A cleaner, greener environment for our children. We’ll clear away the garbage, the blight, the debris, and establish beautiful, well managed agricultural crops. In every aspect of Hantz Farms, we plan to use only recyclable materials and aim to reduce waste to nearly zero. We’ll also reintroduce Detroiters to the beauty of nature.
Synergy for local businesses. Tourists coming in to Detroit to visit Hantz Farms—not just for an annual event, but on a daily basis—will patronize other businesses as well.
Consolidation of city resources. Detroit’s fire, police and public works departments can better serve city residents when freed from the burden of nearly abandoned neighborhoods.
We can build a new, green economy in Detroit, and lead the world by example. Join us.
To find out more, contact Mike Score, President-Hantz Farms at email@example.com.
A remarkable food production plant is being assembled in a former meat processing facility in Chicago. It’s remarkable because the waste from one type of food becomes the raw material for another. So “The Plant” will be producing Kombucha tea, fresh vegetables, tilapia, and beer…with virtually no waste!