We just read a nice story about residents and a community group working to revitalize the Stockyards neighborhood in Cleveland, which has recently had homes going for as low as $1,500, an increasing supply of empty parcels and no viable plans for redevelopment.
Writing in Communities and Banking (pdf) (the magazine of the Federal Reserve of Boston), Matt Martin and Zachariah Starnik of the Stockyard Redevelopment Organization describe a number of initiatives to stop the downward spiral, from gardens/plantings on city Land Bank parcels with grants and other financial assistance; a collaborative effort between Stockyard and the Ohio State University extension to conduct phyto-remediation (using different types of plant life to cleanse soil) on lots with soil contamination; and a plan that calls for a neglected urban street and adjacent vacant parcels to be developed into a viable green space and corridor. (Stockyard developed a plan that shaped these efforts earlier.)
Most of the article, however, is about a group of citizens in the 48th Street Block Club that led the creation of several gardens on private lots. First, the group pressured the city to tear down abandoned and troublesome buildings and then, without city approval or denial, it started planting gardens on the properties, giving the empty areas an aesthetic turnaround and growing some food for locals in the process. As the article notes:
Revitalization of the lots has improved their appearance and removed a number of former safety risks. The lots have become not only a valuable food resource but also a wellspring of pride. They have united the neighborhood in a single cause, becoming a visible symbol of the neighborhood’s collective power. “We’ve done a lot with a little,” says one club member…….
While no one would claim that merely planting gardens will save a neighborhood, in an area hit by multiple foreclosures every little bit helps. As Art Ledger says, “It’s progress. You’re going to have things that go backwards, too. But we’re ready.”
Just stopping the downward spiral (or “cumulative causation” in economic terms) is in itself a start on the path to revitalization. It is not at all impossible that demand may increase again in this centrally located, historic and “old urbanist” neighborhood in a metro area of 2.3 million people.