SYRACUSE — Albany, Buffalo, and New York City have made their way onto lists of cities with the most green space per capita. Now, one Syracuse group is looking to move their city up on the list, one vacant lot at a time.
This spring, Syracuse-based Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today, a nonprofit focused on community building, began transforming a formerly vacant lot into a community garden. The property, located at 221 Midland Ave., is an extension of an existing space, Kwanzaa Community Garden, which has been serving the Southside area for over 20 years.
Patrona Jones-Rowser of the TNT Neighborhood Task Force says that the Kwanzaa garden had initially started for the youth in the community but has since expanded. Now, local residents can grow their own produce and receive non-perishables from a blessing box, an honor system food pantry.
This year, the Greater Syracuse Land Bank, an organization that redevelops underutilized or tax-delinquent properties leased the soon-to-be green space to TNT, awarding the nonprofit a $1,500 capital improvements grant. The grant covered renovations like raised beds, trees or other perennials, as well as materials to tend to a garden on a land bank-owned vacant lot, according to the GSLB website. And TNT used the funding to remove brush located in the rear of the lot.
In many cities, housing development is largely left up to private capital. And in Rust Belt areas like Syracuse, where economic recessions like the Great Recession of 2008 lead to damaging housing crises, land banks act as facilitators in managing the aftermath of housing issues by redeveloping abandoned properties.
Assistant Professor of Geography at Sacramento State Patrick Oberle wrote his doctoral dissertation on this exact topic.
“All land banks are a little bit different even if they are structured similarly,” says Oberle who began studying the GSLB about 10 years ago, in its beginning stages. “Syracuse’s, in my experience, tends to be a bit more community focused than others. Some land banks in Michigan, for example, have a reputation for being a bit more of like a traditional developer. They're really trying to turn properties around as quick as they can to whoever's willing to pay the most.”
In the last few years, the vacant space’s sidelines had been used for compost and mulch drops, larger loans that take up two or more yards. Drop offs will continue in that space as redevelopment progresses, TNT says.
The organization also hosted a lead initiative program in the lot, this year, in which over a dozen residents were taught about the effects of soil contaminants. In the training program, community members built their own raised beds rather than in-ground garden boxes for easier and more efficient harvesting.
“That space will act as a multi-use space for us, it’s larger than the [Kwanzaa community] garden itself,” says Rowser, adding that the green space will expand beyond its current flower farm to include a fruits and vegetables garden.
Green space finalization plans are ongoing, as TNT continues to seek funding for the project.
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