Vacant homes might be the most visible sign of abandonment and distress in a neighborhood, but vacant lots can cause problems, too. Or offer opportunities.
Baltimore's "Power in Dirt" program aims to make it easier for residents to adopt empty lots near them, an effort Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke about Friday at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual meeting in Orlando.
By telephone just before the session, Rawlings-Blake said about 14,000 lots in the city are vacant, "and until recently, when community members were trying to get their hands on one of the lots, it was a challenge."
"Residents told me it was difficult for them to take on a vacant lot in their neighborhood because they were discouraged by the barriers the city had put in their way," she said.
Power in Dirt, launched last summer as part of a volunteering effort called stepUP! Baltimore, is trying to change that. Residents can see whether the empty lot near them is one of the 5,000 the city owns, apply online to adopt it, get a water hookup to allow for gardening and connect with other resources, including grants. AmeriCorps members are doing outreach for the effort.
Here's an example of a lot turned into a garden.
Overgrown, trash-strewn lots "really drag neighborhoods down," Rawlings-Blake said. She sees lot adoption as a way for residents to rejuvenate not only the land in question but the area around it.
Since the program launched, residents have adopted more than 500 lots, the mayor said.
I wondered whether she expected the effort to demolish 700 vacant city homes using money from the national mortgage settlement would intertwine with Power in Dirt.
"Every vacant lot is not going to be turned into a garden," Rawlings-Blake said. "Our demolition will be strategic. Some of the demolition will provide areas for people to enhance the green space around their community, but some of it will be to make way for new residents, new development."
Have you adopted or applied to adopt a lot? How did it go?
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