Phoenix Project to Turn Vacant Lots into Community Spaces

PHX Renews, Gardening, Phoenix

Volunteers add compost to the lot's soil. Photo: Keep Phoenix Beautiful/PHX Renews

Transforming a Vacant Lot

PHX Renews plans to bring many community groups to this first property - located at the intersection of Indian School Road and Central Avenue - and to showcase what could be possible at other lots throughout the city. The project is being implemented by Keep Phoenix Beautiful (KPB), the local affiliate of the national nonprofit Keep America Beautiful. KPB recently sent some of its members to Philadelphia, where the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society has transformed an impressive 6000 lots in that city, to learn best practices for this type of project.

"It's a cool program," Tom Waldeck, executive director of Keep Phoenix Beautiful, said of the program in Philadelphia. "Of course, their lots are 25 by 125 feet and they have that thing called rain that we don't have. We have our challenges, but we look at a challenge as 'How can we overcome it?'"

KPB has faced a number of obstacles to getting the project off the ground, including obtaining dust and agriculture permits, but in doing so believe they are learning valuable lessons about how other nonprofits and community groups can tackle projects like this in the future, Waldeck explained.

Meanwhile, KPB has brought in a wide variety of local groups and organizations to help make the property into a working community space.

So far, two organizations are growing food on the site. The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program has been growing cover and summer crops to try to put nutrients back into the soil. Because the land sat empty for so long, the soil was in many places as hard as rock, Waldeck said. The Master Gardener program has been addressing this problem with soil amendments like compost. The group also plans to set up therapy gardens for organizations that work with autistic children.

The second group is the International Rescue Committee, which assists refugees from around the world.

"They're an unbelievable group," Waldeck told Earth911. "They are doing urban farming on the top two and a half acres. With that two and a half acres, they give families each a row to grow whatever they want. They're going to be supporting 70 to 80 families."

Other groups who may become involved with the site include the Veterans Association, which would create therapy gardens for returning veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, local high schools, a group for gay and lesbian youth and even PetSmart, which is interested in setting up a location for pet adoptions on the property, according to KAB. Community garden plots will eventually be available for use by community members, as well.

Phoenix, PHX Renews

Art panels and murals made by local artists were installed at the site. Photo: Keep Phoenix Beautiful/PHX Renews

The City of Phoenix's Public Works Department plans to get involved by setting up composting and recycling demonstration areas that will facilitate educational opportunities.

"One of our goals here is to be able to open this up to school groups, so we have an education component to it. [...] We want to bring kids in to show them that food comes out of the ground and not out of a Cheetos bag," Waldeck said.

Public art will play a role in welcoming community members, too. Recently, mural panels painted by local artists were installed at the site, which amount to 1,280 linear feet of art.