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Community Leaders Collaborate to Restore Vacant Lots

By Regan Tokos

Town Fork Creek Residents develop creative solutions for vacant land in their neighborhood. Photo credit: Regan Tokos.

At Heartland Conservation Alliance we believe our collective impact expands when we meet new people and build partnerships through collaborative practices. In June HCA partnered with Syntax Land Design, Hoxie Collective and Down to Earth Services to host charrettes in the Wendell Phillips and Town Fork Creek neighborhoods. A charrette is an intensive period of design and planning held with a group of stakeholders where they work to resolve conflicts, present ideas, and map solutions. Together we made up the Technical Advisory Group, or the TAG.

Charrettes are an important step toward restoring vacant lots in Kansas City. As part of the Restoring Vacant Lots program Heartland Conservation Alliance developed a vacant lot mapping tool to help rank lots in the region based on their development and restoration potential, and how their health will affect the health of the Blue River. The Vacant Lot map is based on data from the Mid-America Region Council and is built with layers of information that provide details for each of the scores.

The Urban Neighborhood Initiative played a vital role in developing the Vacant to Vibrant field guide for residents wanting to work on vacant lots in their neighborhood. The field guide breaks down the different types of vacant lots and provides guidance and clear steps toward implementing the vacant lot design solutions developed in the charrettes.

The TAG worked with the residents of Town Fork Creek and Wendell Phillips in the first steps of planning and picking a vacant lot. With the help of neighborhood residents the TAG selected a vacant lot and developed a preliminary design with the guidance and expertise of Down to Earth Services. Following the community meetings, we will begin the next steps of restoration. These next steps include using the preliminary designs to apply for funding, finding neighborhood partners who would support the redevelopment or management of the vacant lot in the future, and getting to work on replanting the lots.

The project is part of HCA’s goal to improve the health of the Blue River Watershed by restoring vacant lots in Kansas City by developing a unique vision for specific lots and working with new partners in Kansas City neighborhoods. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re excited to share the next steps in the restoration process.

Restoring vacant lots is an essential part of urban land conservation and revitalization. There are an estimated 5,000 vacant lots in Kansas City, MO. These lots contribute to blight in a majority of low-income urban areas of the city, but with the right collaborators and guidance from neighborhood leaders, the lots can be transformed into spaces that improve quality of life for residents.

The environmental benefits of a restored vacant lot occur when nature is functioning at its best. Some of the environmental benefits of a transformed vacant lot include slowing and dispersing rainwater so adjacent streets are less impacted by flooding, increased habitat for pollinators and birds, healthy habitats for plants and animals, flower and food gardens that provide opportunities beautiful places to gather, or simply a shaded area for residents to relax. These benefits of a restored lot help to create a more inviting space for neighbors to enjoy and improve the environment. To learn more about HCA's Restoring Vacant Lots Program or get involved, contact Jill Erickson,

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