Tag Archives: sustainable neighborhoods

Vacant Lots: Crowd-Sourcing The Sustainable Neighborhood | Earthtechling

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.

Green Development Zone community garden

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.

Network Center neighborhood map

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.

via Vacant Lots: Crowd-Sourcing The Sustainable Neighborhood | Earthtechling.

In Praise of (Loud, Stinky) Bars — Rooflines

The vaunted “third space” isn’t home, and isn’t work—it’s more like the living room of society at large.  It’s a place where you are neither family nor co-worker, and yet where the values, interests, gossip, complaints and inspirations of these two other spheres intersect.  It’s a place at least one step removed from the structures of work and home, more random, and yet familiar enough to breed a sense of identity and connection.  It’s a place of both possibility and comfort, where the unexpected and the mundane transcend and mingle.

And nine times out of ten, it’s a bar.

So, a little story:  Once upon a time there was a scruffy real estate developer who shall go nameless, who made some prudent purchases in a derelict former industrial neighborhood.  He had a dream to turn that neighborhood into a vibrant new community that attracted talented young professionals willing to pay at least $1,000 per square foot to live there.  But times were hard and everyone thought he was nuts.  Now, the developer had three things going for him:  time, empty space, and a son who was actively dating.  The son would come home from a date and say, “Pops, you know that empty storefront down the side street by the pier?  Can my girlfriend turn that into a welding shop?”  And poof! A rent-free welding shop would appear.  Soon the area was populated with ex-girlfriends running quirky artisanal industries, but still times were tough and the talented young professionals would not come. Then one day the son came home and said, “Hey Pops, my girlfriend wants to open a bar.”  The father considered this gravely, but finally agreed.  Bars were stinky and noisy and they sold liquor.  But they also attracted people and besides the place was just sitting empty now anyway.  The bar was opened, and lo and behold it became a Third Space:  a place where poor young hipsters could go and hang their weary heads over cheap beer after a long day of yarn bombing, and also where the local shipping company guys enjoyed the jukebox.  Before you knew it, alcohol was flowing freely, and the new locals and old locals were conspiring to illegally convert lofts into residential units and open food co-ops.  It wasn’t long before the bar started serving food, and then one day the unthinkable happened – it opened a café next door with really good coffee and quirky flavors of scones…. Look, I’m not telling this story to glorify bars as the ultimate third space intervention – I’m just trying to point out that bars occupy are particular niche in the place-making ecosystem.  They are like the prairie grass after the fire:  preparing the way for the scrub, and ending with the deciduous trees and their variegated canopy.  They are hardy pioneers, taking root where not much else can sustain life. Wait, was that metaphor too much?  Yes, definitely.

Continue reading In Praise of (Loud, Stinky) Bars — Rooflines