Thursday, February 19, 2015

Vacant Lots and Denver, Colorado

One of the problems that plagues urbanized cities is the abandonment of previously occupied land. This can be usually caused by rapid population shifts in cities. In most major cities in the U.S and around the world, vacant land that consists of weed lots, garbage strewn underdeveloped spaces especially concentrated in low-income neighborhoods or areas. This usually increases crimes that become blights on the neighborhood. Vacant land typically results from human migration, deindustrialization, environmental disaster, decreased birth rates or contamination, and occurs at various concentrations in cities across the world. The good news is that vacant, underutilized land has the potential to provide cities with opportunity to create and develop new ecosystems that support biodiversity and increase the provisioning of vital ecosystem services for urban residents. Denver, Colorado is a good example of this. As a rapidly growing urban center, Denver must cope with the challenges of expansion and pressures that growth can place on low-income, inner-city residents. With Denver’s population of about 554,636 people is about 32% Latino and 10% African American. The organization involved is the Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities. They represent a partnership between Denver-based community organizations, the University of Colorado and community residents. The Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities collaborative brings together a number of different community groups and academic and government institutions, each with different strengths and capabilities. Community participants play a vital role in shaping garden design, building and planting gardens, and providing ongoing maintenance to gardens. Community groups include: Denver Urban Gardens, a well-established organization that brings gardens to Denver’s urban areas and has a great deal of influence on local policy; Groundwork Denver Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to restoring vacant and underutilized urban land (e.g., urban brownfields); and Front Range Earth Force, a nonprofit that works with youth around environmental stewardship.
The strategy that the organization, Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities, employed is transforming unused land into urban gardens in moderate and low-income neighborhoods which have higher concentrations of Latino and African American residents who generally live below the poverty line. According to the Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities, the goal of this project is to understand the role of community gardens as a catalyst for broader neighborhood improvements and public health changes. As a result, the once vacant lots of land once strewn with garbage now bloom with new life in some of Denver’s poorest neighborhoods. Denver Urban gardens has been transforming unused lots onto community gardens, creating pockets of green in the midst of inner-city communities. A recently formed collaborative, Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities, studies how the gardens impact community health and translates finding for stakeholders. These urban oases foster neighborhood ties and promote physical, social, and mental well-being. By providing access to fresh organic produce, opportunities for physical activity, contact with nature, and neighborhood meeting places, these gardens promote physical and mental health in communities with diverse residents. Although Springfield is not a highly urbanized or major city, with the number of vacant land available, the process of transforming them to gardens is very feasible especially in the lower income areas in the Southside areas of Springfield Ohio. This would foster inter communal relations and also lead to social and environmental benefits like crime and noise reduction, recreation spaces, beautification for the neighborhoods etc.
As a result of transforming the vacant lots there is an improvement to the earlier layer of earth being misused and its lack of vegetation. They used heavy machinery to clear out the land as well as soil tests to determine the composition and volume of soil amendments require. The soil needs to be mixed in order for the soil to be porous as well as even throughout for the roots of vegetation to hold onto. The land will have the some kind of crops in it year round so the soil will not degrade by the difference in its vegetation. Also there is investing in permanent irrigation systems for the community garden. The with later movement of the soil there would be a reduction of tillage which minimizes the loss of organic matter and protects the soil surface with plant residue. All choices on when to start the project are made in relation to the nature of the soil they are currently working on. With Denver, Colorado’s precipitation levels this is most likely to happen in May.

Figure 1: Precipitation in Denver, Colorado.
Figure 2: Precipitation Denver, Colorado.

In order to transform vacant lots in a community it really does take a group effort that is fully dedicated. For example Denver Urban Gardens began to take the lead to start of the project and the simple basics. Denver Urban Garden provided working volunteers of all ages, groups of technical assistance, helping residents plan, design, coordinate, and construct urban gardens in their neighborhoods. Not only that but they offered to trainings about herbs, composting, tractors, food preservation, water conservation, and other gardening skills. They are trying to promote and maintain the gardens. Eventually the program grew and they had the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver and the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in the School of Medicine provide coordination, funding, and researchers for the effort. One of the biggest actions taken was monitoring since 2002. They university participated by offering students and researchers volunteers get informed of the health impact of gardens around the communities. The turn out was so successful they had data of about 30 Denver Neighborhoods with a focused pilot project in 14 community gardens in 2 Northern neighborhoods. The average cost to make a new garden it cost $10,000 and making any other adjustments about $3,000-5,000. What helps them out with maintenance cost is the Denver’s Department of Park and Recreation donates resources. 

Some ways to get the community involved are the immense the increased qualities of community as well as the physical benefits of gardening. There is a definite link between urban gardening and improved perceptions of physical and mental well-being. Community gardens specifically located in low-income areas were four times more likely to catalyze efforts to deal with concerns than in higher income areas. These gardens influence several dimension of health by having these sanctuaries that promote physical, social, and mental well-being. It also has a positive effect on dietary intake. Training and education about herbs, composting, tractors, food preservation, water conservation, and other gardening skills are provided for this program. Children’s involvement can start with exciting books about gardening in order to have them aware of how to make the earth a more beautiful place. From here a space can be provided for a specific class or group within a school that gives awards for best effort. This can be a yearly trophy won for the room since kids always need an incentive.


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