Earlier this summer, Bennett, Mikey and myself decided to play a modest part in community outreach by documenting the Grand Street Community Arts’ Vacant Lot Project. The VLP began in 2009 in response to the staggering amount of vacant lots present in the South End neighborhood of Albany, NY. Working with The City of Albany’s Vacant Lot Stabilization Program, the GSCA is overseeing the rehabilitation of four lots, two city-owned and two privately-owned.
We volunteered to take photos throughout the duration of this project. This first post introduces the Capital Region Permaculture Guild and community members, hard at work creating a urban meadow, park and education site at 84-92 Catherine Street.
More photos below. Click on any of the thumbnails to open a larger view, or check the full-screen Flickr slideshow if you have Flash installed.
The mission of Grand Street Community Arts is to create unity and connection, especially through the arts, in an inner-city neighborhood with racial and economic diversity. The lots used for the VLP were selected by the GSCA based on their location and visibility within the South End. The key idea was to involve and empower South End residents, help transform these eyesores of no economic or social value into meaningful parts of the urban landscape. “Setting up a proposal process, we sought to attract local individuals and groups to come up with their own visions for the vacant lots. [...] we hope to foster a lasting sense of pride and investment within the neighborhood”, can be read on the GSCA overview page.
After spending a few hours on site, it becomes clear that this project will certainly ameliorate the image of the South End. One can only hope that it will trigger an influx of new residents and businesses, and motivate current residents to stay.
Seen above, community members and volunteers are creating a two-part community park, proposed and organized by Capital Regional Permaculture Guild members Sharon Hoffman & Julia Von der Reith. Half of the lot will be a low-maintenance native plant garden with benches, sculptures and paths. The other half will be a “urban meadow” where plants proven to absorb heavy metals and other contaminants help clean the soil, eventually rendering it safe enough to grow fruits and vegetables. This later process is known as phytoremediation.
The VLP had a great turnout of volunteers to help clear the lot of all the trash and debris during the first community cleanup event at the end of June. A few days earlier students from the Harriet Gibbons School came to learn about phytoremediation, conduct soil testing, and make seed balls for future plantings. Seed balls? “Seed balls are created out of seeds, compost, and clay — the ball protects the seeds until enough rain falls to break through the mixture to allow the seeds to germinate”, clarifies the GSCA.
I took the photos in this post at the end of July. I love the kids’ energy here, they really enjoyed being involved. It is great to see different socio-economic groups working together and having a blast. This is tough work though, a daunting task to say the least; check this massive fence post above. My camera is just a tad less heavy.
The art sculptures will be provided by Albany Middle School Art Club members. The phytoremediation will be monitored by Albany High School science students though several seasons as a hands-on experiment to see if this is a viable and effective way of cleaning contaminated soil.
This little guy cracked me up. The kids really wanted to be on camera, and I made sure to give them equal attention. Also, I don’t mess with a tough guy with a pointy rake.
The City of Albany developed the Vacant Lot Stabilization Program to beautify underutilized parcels owned by the City. This initiative is to create green space in the neighborhood, to increase the overall quality of life for the community and to knit together other parks and community gardens. This program will provide the community with places to plant flowers or simply a place to relax and enjoy nature.
Where is this project headed? A few days ago, Sharon Hoffman shared: “The work progressed all summer, we had several more big work days and then smaller ones with different groups like Youth Organics, the Sienna College community service group and the Saint Rose environmental club. It was great”.
They cleaned up the lot, she adds, had DGS take all the big stuff, and had the dead trees cut down. The city gardener brought many loads of compost, they planted the urban meadow for bio-remediation, made native plant beds, and built the water catchment system. The Albany Middle school students are making artwork for the opening/dedication ceremony in the Spring. They will still be working to paint the water catchment system and finish the planting beds until it freezes.
Thanks to our primary contact Jane Wolterding for helping us document this project. Thanks to Sharon Hoffman too, and all the volunteers. We hope to bring more photos soon. Once we have more material, we could help out creating a photo-book and raise some funds, that’s an idea. What do you think, and what would you do to help?
This project needs volunteers! Contact Sharon Hoffman – (518) 463-2222. Check the VLP Facebook page and VLP GSCA page for more information.
Bennett took photos as well. Here is a glimpse below, the rest can be found in his Flickr photoset.
Mikey took photos of the lot back in June. It was in a much rougher shape. A few photos below, the rest in his Flickr photoset.
The project was also covered by All Over Albany earlier in March.