By Luther Houle
Ashley Everhart, agency director of the Neighborhood Engagement Hub, began the third meeting of the series “Neighbors Changing Flint” with an eye-opening statistic.
“Within the city’s boundaries, we have almost 60,000 vacant lots,” she said, citing the Flint Property Portal, a popular website for identifying lot owners and status. She said that number includes both lots owned by the Genesee County Land Bank and private property.
About 30 residents gathered March 6 at the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village (SBEV), 4119 Saginaw St., ready to discuss strategies for dealing with vacant lots in their neighborhoods.
Ideas posed ranged from market gardens to tree farms to “edible” landscapes to public art.
The series is hosted by the Neighborhood Engagement Hub in partnership with the Ruth Mott Foundation, Applewood, Flint Neighborhoods United, the City of Flint, the Crim Fitness Foundation, the Land Bank of Genesee County, and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
“Neighbors Changing Flint” is a six-session series where residents are given useful information and resources geared toward bettering their community. They’re also encouraged to join the conversation and share their own experiences of their neighborhood.
The meetings are held at the SBEV from 5 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday until the final workshop on March 27. It is free, and food is provided. However RSVPs are required. Residents can RSVP online at tinyurl.com/neighborschangingflint.
To discuss potential uses for vacant lots, Everhart opened up the meeting to four breakout sessions. The sessions covered topics ranging from simple privately-enacted vacant lot use strategies to fullscale public art projects.
Vacant Land Reuse 101
John Cohoon, horticulture technical assistant at Applewood, held a conversation on small, individual kinds of vacant lot use. “I think a lot of people in the community are aware that we can do community gardens, we can do hoop houses, we can do a pocket park with a little orchard on it, but what are some of the other things that we can do?”
One strategy he suggested was market gardens, saying “There’s a huge opportunity for market gardens, if you’re growing something to take down to the Farmers’ Market to sell.” He also suggested the creation of tree farms and “edible natural landscapes” for lower-maintenance alternatives to regular community gardening.
Another breakout session was hosted by Joe Schipani and Sandra Branch with the Flint Public Art Project. The two covered the possibility of implementing a range of public art projects, including yarn bombing, window lights, sculptures, and murals. According to Schipani, it’s possible to raise funding for a high-level mural artist to come paint. “I have 150 of some of the best mural artists around the world dying to come to Flint,” he said.
“You could have a property that you own, or you know somebody who owns. If you want a mural on that property, get with me. Tell me you’ve got a wall for me,” Branch added.
Joe Schipani and the Flint Public Art Project can be reached at email@example.com 810-820-0275 with any questions regarding funding or the development of public art projects in your neighborhood.
One resident, Therman Sisco, talked about his experience with vacant lot use. For the past two years, Sisco and volunteers from his church, Higher Quality-Life Ministries, have been improving a space at the corner of Saginaw and Sherman.
“It’s not safe. And when people feel that they’re not safe, they’re not gonna come out,” Sisco said.
What started as a group of three vacant lots and an abandoned building has now blossomed into a park with a reading garden and kids’ stage. “It became a real bad eyesore… We started from scratch. We had to move trees. We had to move a lot of things, but we have a nice stage there. We have four large plant boxes, and this year we’re gonna install gardens and shrubs.”
Now, two years later, Sisco said, families come to the park for neighborhood events. “We had reading in the park, we had movies in the park where we actually put the screen up, and the kids come in,” and Sisco’s catering business fed everyone for free.
According to Sisco, the focus of those events and the park’s creation is childhood literacy. “The stage was it. What kid doesn’t want to be on the stage? They come out in droves from the neighborhood and they’re up there. they’re reading, they’re acting, they’re singing, and it’s for them.”
The “Neighbors Changing Flint” workshop series takes place on Wednesdays, with the final workshop 5 to 8 p.m. March 27 at the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village at 4119 Saginaw St.
The last three workshops are:
March 13: Funding Opportunities
March 20: Promoting Health Through Neighborhood Design
March 27: Planning for Long Term Change
To attend any of the events, RSVP at tinyurl.com/neighborschangingflint, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 810-620-1299, ext 2.