Friday, February 20, 2015

Improving Vacant Lots

Amanda Crawley & Emily Norrod

The city of Baltimore, MD has numerous vacant lots scattered across the city creating a financial burden for the city government and an eyesore for its citizens. In April of 2012, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake dedicated a plot of land in West Baltimore as the “Upton Edible Garden.” This new garden had six raised garden beds on a wood chip covered ground. The garden was a part of a program called “Power in Dirt” which is meant to help revitalize vacant lots in the city. Vacant lots are a big problem in this city with more than 16,000 vacant homes (about 23% of all homes).
Map showing vacant lots in Baltimore, MD 

Through the "Power in Dirt" program, operating for only seven months at the time, Baltimore has adopted 400 lots. The lawn company ScottsMiracle Gro. generously donated $25,000 towards this program to to help ensure the community has the ability to grow healthy food so the residents in the area have better food options. Generally the town only receives fresh vegetables and fruit maybe once a week through a farmer's market. The empty lots in Baltimore can be applied for adoption through a 9 month period for $120 to turn on water for a hose in the lot. Mini grants were given for the program to be able to turn on the water for the garden to thrive. 
A picture showing some of the raised garden beds of the Baltimore, MD "Upton Edible Garden"
Vacant lots create many problem in cities across the country not just financially or aesthetically, but also environmentally. The soils of abandoned lots often have a heavy buildup of debris and trash leading to potentially toxic substances in the often heavily compacted soil. Both of those factors (toxic substances and compacted soil) negatively affect the local water supply. City soils have also often lost or had destroyed much of the material in them that helps sustain life and naturally filter water. Reintroduction of plants to this type of soil will aid in rectifying this. Another issue that isn’t often thought about is the effects urban areas have on temperatures. Urban areas occasionally have higher temperatures than rural areas because the surfaces prevalent in urban areas absorb heat (whereas in rural areas, heat is evaporated off of vegetation and soil). Having the additional green areas in cities will help lower the overall temperature in cities where this is an issue. With the introduction of an urban garden, the quality of not only the city and it’s health increase, but also the environment.

“Surface and atmospheric temperatures vary over different land use areas. Surface temperatures vary more than air temperatures during the day, but they both are fairly similar at night. The dip and spike in surface temperatures over the pond show how water maintains a fairly constant temperature day and night, due to its high heat capacity.”

Turning to a more local view on vacant lots, we know that the problem is just as big here as it is in Baltimore. To improve vacant lots in Springfield, OH, we cannot just do what we see as best. In order to find a sustainable solution to this problem, there needs to be support from the community as a whole. We have put together a potential series of steps to take to hopefully achieve this community support.

Step 1 - Gather a survey together and pass them out to the residents in Springfield, and in Lincoln Elementary.The students can take them home, or it can be sent out electronically for the parents/guardians to fill out with them. This survey will ask a series of questions on how said person feels about our vacant lot(s) and how they would like if it were fixed into a garden of sorts. This survey can be a rated one, on 1 being if they strongly disagree, and a 5 being that they strongly agree with the statement at hand. They will also be asked on whether or not they would like to participate in helping and if so they can meet at designated area at the end of the survey

Step 2- Create a meeting of sorts for all who is interested in helping making the vacant lot a garden. At the end of the survey in step 1 there can be an email address to send their contact information to if they are interested in learning how they can help with this project. After receiving all the emails we can gather on how many will be there at the meeting to decide where to meet at.
Step 3- At the meeting decide on a garden to make the vacant lot into and assign people in the community jobs to do for this project for it to work. For example: 5 of the people can take all the trash out of the lot, 5 of the people can prepare it for gardening, by taking out weeds and roots.etc.


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