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Restoring Vacant Lots for Healthier Communities

Four mini-grant awardees celebrated projects completed in June 2016. Neighborhood members attend a workshop to learn about the Field Guide. Photos by: Heartland Conservation Alliance.

Have you heard the news? Interacting with nature and green spaces on a daily basis can reduce your blood pressure. It has positive effects on your mental health, reducing anxiety and depression. Trees help filter and purify the air we breathe while native plants help filter and clean the water we play in and drink. Heartland Conservation Alliance has been exploring restoring vacant lots in the Kansas City area as a solution to increasing access to nature and increasing the health of our watershed.

According to initial estimates, Kansas City has more than 38,000 unused vacant lots. Working closely with neighborhoods we are exploring the best ways to restore some of these lots to green spaces so that the community can have a safe, close, maintained place to enjoy all the benefits of nature. We have partnered with Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) and Urban Neighborhood Initiative (UNI)to produce the Vacant To Vibrant: A Guide to Working With Lots. Do you want to prevent dumping on a vacant lot in your community? There’s a restoration design specifically for that. How about attracting butterflies and other pollinators? There’s a design for that too. So far, there are eight garden plans to assist neighborhoods in tackling restoring a vacant lot with plans to add more each year. This workbook is specifically made for Kansas City, so we have a list of local resources and municipalities you might need throughout your project too.

The next question to answer is how do we know which lots would be best to restore? With funding from the Health Forward Foundation, HCA developed a mapping tool that prioritizes vacant lots with the most potential for "green" in the Blue River Watershed. This map guides finding a place for a "green" project, helps tell the story about the place and connects projects and resources. In its final testing phase, the map is on schedule to be published in June. We now must put all these tools together, roll up our sleeves, and start to turn vacant into vibrant. We intend to work hands-on with neighborhoods through our Green Guard Stewardship Program to walk stewards through the restoration process. We will use each step as an opportunity to build community, share knowledge, and improve the health of our watershed.

Do you have a vacant lot that could serve a healthier purpose in your neighborhood? Please reach out to us to see how we can help.

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