Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Idora Neighborhood Transforms Vacant Property into Lots of Green

What were once blighted buildings and weed-covered lots are now being transformed into tilled topsoil and fertilized planters for fresh produce in Idora Neighborhood on the south side of Youngstown. Bulldozers can be seen working at vacant sites all throughout the neighborhood, leveling and preparing land for conversion to gardens and public green space.

Idora Neighborhood is a test site for Lots of Green, a project initiated by the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC) in order to "[transform] the challenge of unmanaged vacant land into neighborhood assets." The process involves the systematic removal of derilict buildings and the reclamation of vacant lots in targeted neighborhoods. These lots, in turn, are adaptively re-used and converted into a wide range of public green space uses, based upon the specific needs and interests of the neighborhood.

In Idora, YNDC has joined forces with the Community Development Agency to get the neighborhood's blighted homes and buildings systematically deconstructed and demolished using federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funding. YNDC also raised funding to cover the cost of the plants, trees, tools, and landscaping needed to transform these vacant lots into productive space.

In total, the Lots of Green project is in the process of recovering over 125 neglected properties interspersed throughout Idora Neighborhood, converting them into assets instead of liabilities. Approximately 150 lots will be improved by the time the project has been completed.

These lots are being re-purposed for a wide variety of different uses based closely on interests of the neighborhood's residents. Lots adjacent to Mill Creek Park, which borders the neighborhood on three sides, are being returned to the forest for the park's expansion or converted into rain gardens to reduce water pollution and soil erosion. Smaller sites located between houses are being leveled for passive green space or as side lots for neighbors using native plantings and special low-maintenance grasses. Some of the larger locations are being used for raised-bed community gardens where neighbors and the public are welcome to adopt space and plant produce. On Mineral Springs Road, a large lot is being set aside for the Mineral Springs Demonstration Farm, and urban agriculture project that will include community space. One site is even being used as a research garden for Ohio State University.

This community-based, institutionally-supported project falls directly in line with the Idora Neighborhood Plan, a community planning document for the neighborhood's redevelopment. The plan recommends that blighted, vacant space should be re-used for productive,purposes that engage the community. Both the Idora plan and the planting initiative directly follow the guidelines of the Youngstown 2010 CityWide Plan, which calls for the reclamation of vacant land for green space in order to reduce blight, improve neighborhood conditions and right-size the city for a smaller population.

Lots of Green in Idora is another example of why Youngstown is being looked toward as a model of sustainability. This initiative is drawing attention for its use of community-based planning strategies and because of its innovative and comprehensive approach to neighborhood stabilization. If successful, it will serve as a model for future efforts of revitalizing vacant property throughout Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

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