Wednesday, September 3, 2014  |  0 Comment(s)  |   Email   Print

About Vacant to Vibrant


 Vacant to Vibrant is a 4-year, 3-city project that examines the effectiveness of clustered, small urban greening installations to provide environmental and social benefits to communities. In the midst of a variety of important work in urban land reuse, green infrastructure, and urban greening, Vacant to Vibrant will explore the role of individual vacant residential parcels in helping manage stormwater and improving the fabric of neighborhoods. This is one potentially important approach among many that will be needed to revitalize legacy neighborhoods in the Great Lakes region that have experienced depopulation, housing abandonment, and demolition.

Our project was inspired by the Botanical Garden's Green Corps, an urban farming work-study program for high school students. Over the 17-year history of Green Corps, we've come to recognize the social and environmental benefits of urban farming—namely, summer employment, neighborhood beautification, local produce, vacant land reuse, plant and insect habitat. It led us to ask whether other types of land uses could provide similar benefits to communities without as much investment of money and labor.

In the 18 months leading up to Vacant to Vibrant, the Botanical Garden convened a diverse panel of experts from multiple Great Lakes cities. Their collective experience covered urban farming as well as city planning, vacant land management, sewer and stormwater infrastructure, environmental sustainability, governance, and other issues. The purpose of the convenings was to characterize common problems among urban areas along the Great Lakes, understand existing efforts, and explore overlapping solutions.

From this process, we identified 3 needs that could be identified in most urban areas in the Great Lakes basin: restoring vacant land to productive use, managing stormwater, and working toward environmental justice for urban residents. Among our observations was that larger site size and higher site visibility were frequently prioritized in site selection for many existing urban greening and green infrastructure projects. Those patterns of site selection eliminated a large number of vacant parcels in urban areas, which exist as small, distributed lots in residential neighborhoods. It had the added effect of locating projects in areas that tended to be more affluent, more densely populated, and occupied predominantly by white residents. Lastly, we observed that there were few groups on the ground who had the expertise, money, and/or liability protection to systematically analyze whether projects as built were satisfying their intended goals.

Vacant to Vibrant was developed to address the niche that we identified through our planning process. It will be composed of three clustered, improved residential parcels in each of three Great Lakes neighborhoods: Aetna in Gary, IN; Woodland Hills in Cleveland, OH; and West Buffalo in Buffalo, NY—older, low-density residential neighborhoods that are occupied mostly by people of color. A mix of owned homes, rental homes, and current demolition efforts will provide an opportunity for economic stabilization. Installations are designed to both capture stormwater capture and provide needed recreational space. A network of scientific professionals will measure the effectiveness of our installations to achieve various ecologic and social goals.

It's our hope that Vacant to Vibrant will demonstrate the value of disseminated networks of multipurpose green space and encourage decision-makers to plan for green as they begin reimagining Great Lakes cities.


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