Case Study: Vacant lots for the community? How about in L.A?
There are vacant lots all throughout cities, all over the country that just sit or have things dumped in them. Nothing is being done with them when there is so much potential. They can be owned by the city or be in private hands that are just waiting to sell them for the right price. The vacant lots make up a great deal of land and some think that this land should be put to use to improve things in the cities and neighborhoods where they are a very prominent. A prime example is Ron Finely. Finley was raised in South Central Los Angeles. He describes South Central as “home of the drive-thru and the drive-by” (Finely, 2013). South Central is full of “liquor stores, fast food, vacant lots” (Finely, 2013). South Central is not portrayed positively in the media. It is correlated to violence, gangs, drugs, etc. The city planners came together to change the way South Central was portrayed and their first step was changing the name to South Los Angeles in order to rebrand the area. As Finely points out, it is still the same “This is South Los Angeles. Liquor stores, fast food, vacant lots…Funny thing is, the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive bys.” (Finely, 2013).
There is a food crisis in South Central; it is one of many food desserts. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a food dessert is defined as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” (USDA). Finely was tired of watching the obesity rates rise and kill people so he decided to plant food on the parkway that was 150 feet by 10 feet in front of his home. According to the city, this is a piece of land that the residents must maintain, so he and his group L.A. Green Grounds decided to plant what he refers to as a “food forest” (Finely, 2013). This was food that the community could take and use and the work was all done by volunteers.
Everything was going well until someone complained about the “food forest” and the city not only cited Finely but the citation was going to become a warrant. He got a citation for planting food on a strip of land that the city could care less about. The L.A. Times got a hold of what was going on, Steve Lopez did a story on it, and with a petition of 900 signatures on Change.org, the Green Grounds and Finely were a success. Their councilman called and told him he supported what he was doing. As they progressed, they went on to plant several gardens all over their neighborhood.
To Finely, these gardens were a tool he used to educate and transform his neighborhood. The city planners wanted to rebrand and transform the area but Finley states, “To change the community, you have to change the composition of the soil.” (Finley, 2013). Children who participated in the dig-ins as well as keeping the gardens going spent their time being productive and making something that showed real results instead of participating in other, more violent or illegal activities. If the children grow fruits and vegetables, they will eat those fruits and vegetables. He wants to show these children how to step up and be leaders in their community in a positive and productive way. This helps produce a sustainable life and access to healthy foods. Hr brought the community together. Some of their dig-ins had 50 people participate to create these gardens.
L.A. is the leader for amount of vacant lots owned by the city in the United States. “They [City of L.A.] own 26 square miles of vacant lots. That’s 20 Central Parks. That’s enough space to plant 725 million tomato plants.” (Finley, 2013). Imagine the possibilities, all that a community could grow and share if one plant produces thousands of seeds. Finely wants to plants blocks of gardens, he wants to put people to work making the produce, opening farmer’s markets, and helping the youth of the neighborhood as well as the adults off the streets and experiencing growing their own food. Being able to provide for themselves and their families in a healthy way, can bring stability to a home and a neighborhood.
Using the vacant lots scattered all over the city could not only impact the community positively in terms of availability of food, helping the youth, and overall health but could also impact the way South Central or South L.A. is perceived as a whole. Since that is something the city planners obviously want to impact. There is another name change in the works for South Central or South L.A. Maybe the city planners and others in power that are trying to rebrand and change their city will notice the impact these vacant lots could have on the community as a whole.
Inspired by: Holding Ground
Finely, R. (2013, February). Transcript of “A guerilla gardener in South Central LA” Retrieved October 16, 2015, from https://www.ted.com/talks/ron_finley_a_guerilla_gardener_in_south_central_la/transcript?language=en#t-271539
United States Department of Agriculture. (USDA). Agricultural Marketing Service – Creating Access to Healthy, Affordable Food. Retrieved October 16, 2015, from https://apps.ams.usda.gov/fooddeserts/fooddeserts.aspx