I spend a majority of time researching activities and projects that neighborhoods can do and I’d like to highlight a handful of my favorites that I hope to eventually implement on the east side. Most of them involve vacant lots and abandoned properties.
Mini Sunflower Gardens
How about turning vacant lots into something visually appealing? There’s an awesome model from Sunflower+Project that shows how to create a little field of sunflowers. Seeds are relatively inexpensive (40 seeds for $5) and volunteer labor is free. Of course there is the need to take care of the plants. What about a neighbor close by? One incentive is to let individuals who volunteer regularly in the “field” sell the flowers at a local farmers market or to other businesses for a profit.
Abandoned Home Art Project
Fun fact: City of Des Moines funding only allows for ten demolitions per year. Unfortunately really bad things can happen with abandoned homes: crime, theft and declining home values nearby. Try selling your house located next to a crack house that was burnt to a crisp. Through agreement with the City (who does the boarding up of homes), gather up some students, neighbors and local artists to add a pop of color to abandoned homes. Read about what a group in Flint did with the house above.
Host a Pop-Up Flea Market
Find awesome vendors, crafty neighbors and other individuals who want to sell unique or gently used items and bring them all together for a pop-up flea market. This is exciting for neighborhoods because they don’t have to travel far and they have a chance to connect with local vendors. Whether it’s a resident selling food from a community garden or a young girl selling her handmade bracelets, the idea is that individuals selling their items are in and out in one day. Learn more from this article.
Raised Garden Beds, aka Community Gardens
So I found this resource in creating raised beds. Two things I’m super interested in: using recycled materials and painting the exterior of those materials. Ideally, it would be salvaged wood, but it has to be pretty specific with sizing and I’m not sure about the difficulty of obtaining such things. Painting the exterior gives neighbors a chance to invest in the garden and possibly claim a plot they would like to invest in. Management of the garden is another conversation itself, but hey, I’m just brainstorming and letting the ideas freely flow.
I’m super proud of the organization I work for, Community Housing Initiatives. This summer, we hosted NeighborWorks week in Dubuque, Iowa and created this awesome mural at a roundabout. Several individuals came out to help and it’s a place seeing much more foot traffic. Read about the event here.
Some of these ideas cost much more than others, but all of them have the capability of engaging the community. It’s great when a new grocery store is built or when a park gets new playground equipment, but rarely do residents have a hand in it. As we aim to change perceptions of neighborhoods in Des Moines, we are committed to building community through neighborhood engagement.
If one of these ideas captures you and you want to make it a reality (and you happen to be a Des Moines resident), connect with me! If you’ve done this already and have some awesome pointers, I want to know.