SafeGrowth teams in Philadelphia and Newark this week produced some remarkable gems for transforming troubled areas. They tackled neglected parks, drug infested commercial corridors, and blighted playgrounds.
One of my favorites was a team from the Belmont community in Philadelphia who zeroed on an abandoned lot. Abandoned lots are not just an eyesore. This one triggered disorder, health and squatting problems for the entire for the neighborhood.
The Belmont team came up with some fascinating ideas for rehabilitation and in a tabletop exercise solicited us for some new ideas.
It was a bright side to this creeping plague. One estimate puts the number of abandoned lots at astronomical levels. It says in 2010 there were 12,000 in Detroit, 40,000 in Philadelphia and 90,000 in Baltimore alone...that's not a typo - 90,000!
The POP Center Guidebook on the topic lists solutions but few actually deal with the root of the problem. Most are superficial situational prevention tactics - changing the environment, installing CCTV, enforcing building codes, and cleanup campaigns. A few are a bit more substantive such as financing to rehabilitate or reuse the property.
More specific help appears in horticulture magazines, especially one interesting decade-long study comparing blighted lots with greened vacant lots. Greening was linked to significant reductions in gun assaults across most of Philadelphia and significant reductions in vandalism in one section of the city.
Another interesting approach appears in an architectural article about a Philadelphia program turning blighted lots into produce generating mini-farms.
Still another idea is a Rhode Island program turning abandoned lots into community gardens. The Philadelphia SafeGrowth presentation on abandoned lots, like all the SafeGrowth presentations this week, was inspiring. It showed how we can turn these places around.