Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Transforming Neighborhoods with Vision and Partnership

This blog entry shows how gardens are one piece of community transformation, along with other green efforts and a little artistic creativity. This story was originally published on the Leaders for Communities blog here

Bernadette Orr, director, 
Community Building & Organizing
Last week I had the good fortune to spend two days visiting with Community Building and Organizing member groups in our Northeast Region.  As with so many “hands-on” experiences, what I expected when I left on the trip was far exceeded by the many insights and lessons learned over the two days.

I started the visit in Philly, where New Kensington CDC (NKCDC) was hosting guests from Argenta CDC North Little Rock, Arkansas.  Mary Beth Bowman, Agenta CDC's executive director, and Shanta Nunn-Baro, their resource development and IDA manager, came up from Little Rock to learn more about what NKCDC has done to “green” their neighborhood.  In particular, they wanted to learn about urban farming – something they hope to replicate back home.

Teens 4 Good mint plant. Teens 14-18 years old
produce about 3000 lbs of food on this lot every year.
We visited a fantastic and productive local farm called Teens 4 Good run by neighborhood youth, a beautiful plant nursery and produce center operated by GreensGrow (“growers of food, flowers, and neighborhoods”), and stayed a while at NKCDC’s own garden center.  Along the route, we passed numerous small lots transformed from abandoned, weedy, problem sites to thriving community gardens. While at the garden center we saw local families coming by to pick up their weekly food shares of fresh produce, as a local chef provided cooking demonstrations and handed out that week’s fresh food recipe.

The weekly farmers market attracts
500-1000 customers each week.
As the day progressed, we slowly realized that, even more than the “green” theme we had come to explore, what we were really learning about was the power of partnerships. Each group brings their own particular expertise to the table and shares a vision of healthy, vibrant communities, and a commitment to neighborhood transformation in partnership with local, resident leadership.  The collective effort brings forth a resulting transformation that is nothing short of magical.  Housing, streets, businesses, art, food, youth, health, education, festivals, community building – everywhere we turned we saw the threads interwoven with impressive results.

This produce for NKCDCs farm to families program is
worth at least twice the $10 charged.
We ended the day back in the office, learning more about how NKCDC’s participation in a project called Sustainable 19125 is moving the neighborhood from the challenges of more than 1000 abandoned lots strewn with trash and debris to Philadelphia’s greenest zip code (click to watch a great video about this work). You can access more photos from the trip on my Twitter account:  @boylstonst.