Turning Vacant Lots into Urban Community Gardens

vacant lot to urban farms

Urban farms are popping up in vacant lots across the United States as part of an attempt to create more sustainable cities while encouraging health and community well-being.

The use of vacant lots for gardens is growing in popularity all over the globe but, due to the crash of the US housing bubble, America was left with an extraordinary amount of unused land.

Cleveland, Ohio commissioned a group of 30 people to explore strategies for reuse of vacant land in their city, which has a declining population. Making Cleveland a healthier, cleaner and economically sound city was the ultimate goal.

Public workshops were held to showcase project proposals for use of the land and 52 of them were funded, with composting projects being extremely popular.

“The lack of strong market demand and the abundance of vacant land create unprecedented opportunities to improve the city’s green space network and natural systems,” said Neighbourhood Progress Inc (NPI) programs senior vice president Bobbi Reichtell.

Community gardens empower communities, making them self-sufficient. They provide food for people of all incomes while improving the community’s potential for growth and development.

“Agriculture, green infrastructure, and other nontraditional land uses will benefit existing residents and help to attract new residents and development” Reichtell said.

vacant lot to urban farms

In the City of Philadelphia, the Mayor’s Office estimates there are approximately 40,000 vacant lots across the city due in large part to the bursting of the housing bubble. Unfortunately, 74 per cent of the lots are privately owned which means they can not be readily taken over and transformed, but the city is working to conquer the problem.

Philadelphia implemented new zoning codes in 2012 which now recognise urban agriculture as a legitimate use of land. Vacant land puts strain on the economy, so the new codes act as an incentive for community members to operate legally on privately-owned land.

Government support is making it far easier to use vacant lots for agriculture in Philadelphia. Organisations such as 596 Acres provides leadership and mentorship for willing community members, providing them with the resources they need to gain approval from the city to use vacant land. Such organisations are instrumental in turning vacant lots owned by the city into useful agriculture sites for the community.

Philadelphia’s new code pledges to protect and promote urban farming in whatever form it materialises, including community gardening, market farming or animal husbandry.

Using vacant urban space for community gardens enriches the lives of those involved. With so many vacant lots still strewn across the globe, cities like Philadelphia and Ohio are hoping to inspire others to band together and use vacant space strategically. As Philadelphia residents will attest, community persistence can even help to change municipal government laws.

 By Kristen Avis
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