Restoring Vacant Lots

Why Vacant Lots?

Meanwhile, there are an estimated 5,000 vacant lots, with 13,000 more vacant single-family homes, in Kansas City, Mo. that contribute to blight, concerns for health and physical safety, and lead to diminished quality of life for residents. The loss in revenue from vacant property is projected to be $33.6 million annually, which increases as police respond to the increased crime which develops around vacant properties. The majority of these vacant lots are located in low-income urban areas of Kansas City, Mo.

Individuals in underserved, urban communities face physical, psychological, and financial barriers to connecting with nature and are therefore prevented from reaping the benefits a healthy environment can provide them. Physical barriers include lack of sidewalks, transportation, and lack of access to green spaces. Psychological barriers include concerns for safety and comfort and negative attitudes and stigmas towards the outdoors. Financial barriers include lack of investment for programming utilizing their green spaces and maintenance of these green spaces, leading to an accumulation of litter and illegal dumping. 

How can I transform vacant lots in my neighborhood?  

Are you a community member who is looking for ways to improve the beauty and environmental quality of your neighborhood? Working with vacant land in urban neighborhoods can be a little intimidating.

 

We want to help step through the questions you may have, including:  

Planning & Picking A Lot

 

 

Finding Funding & Partners

Acquiring the Land &

Cleaning it Up

Building and Planting

 

 

Maintaining the Site

for Years to Come

Planning & Picking A Lot

The first step to the process is making sure that you have team of neighbors onboard. These are the project champions and people who will work beside you to make the project a success for the community. During this step, define your goals, use the mapping tool (see below) to pick the right place to work together, and establish common expectations and responsibilities. This is also a good time to test the soil and gain an understanding of what will be needed to build healthy soil and accomplish your goals.

Resources:

Urban Neighborhood Initiative, Vacant to Vibrant Field Guide

Lincoln University Cooperative Extension – Soil testing

University of Missouri Extension, Jackson County – Soil testing

Finding Funding and Partners

The second step is to determine appropriate ownership and funding for the improvements your community would like to make. Heartland Conservation Alliance can work with you to figure this out. As an urban conservation agency, our first priority is to help communities increase their own capacity to steward healthy natural resources, however we can hold conservation easements and manage environmental restoration projects on behalf of communities, if that seems like the path to greatest success.

Resources:

Heartland Conservation Alliance, Green Guard Stewardship Program

KCMO Land Bank – Low cost acquisition 

Missouri Department of Conservation – Community Conservation Funding

Cleaning it Up

Now that you have a new community resource, accessing the land is the next big next step. Many vacant lots are overgrown, and have an accumulation of litter and illegal dumping. Organizing clean-up days with your neighbors can help to get more community members involved and interested in taking care of this land. There may also be a need to hire professional assistance to help trim trees, remove stumps or haul trash. Heartland Conservation Alliance and their partner organizations can help your community to organize volunteers and identify reliable low-cost solutions to hire professional services when needed. 

Resources:

KCMO Neighborhood Cleanup Assistance Programs

KC Water Services Leaf and Brush Collection

Bledsoe’s Tool Rental

City Rent-a-Truck

Home Depot, Midtown

Building It and Planting It

The transformation had already begun and now it’s time for the structure of a whole new space. Depending on the plans and goals for your community space, the next steps could range from designing paths, rain gardens, and play spaces, to constructing raised beds, hoop houses, and chicken coops for urban agriculture.

Partners:

Eco Abet – Pro-bono design assistance

Kansas City Community Gardens – Education and community

garden assistance

Giving Grove – Education and community orchard assistance

Deep Roots – Native plant collective impact organization

Heartland Tree Alliance – Education and tree planting

Resources:

Urban Neighborhood Initiative, Vacant to Vibrant Field Guide

Cultivate KC – Water access and mini grants for urban

agriculture

Missouri Wildflowers Nursery – Native plant orders

Keeping It Up

Finally, and most importantly, you need a plan to grow, adapt, and maintain this vibrant place for your community. Learning how to steward the plants and maintain the structure and use of the space will change over time. You will learn what works and what doesn’t, and your community will change along with it. Including all ages in learning how to take ownership and responsibility for this community asset will help to assure that it stays vital, loved, and relevant in the community for a long time. Heartland Conservation Alliance can help you plan for the restoration and maintenance of your new natural resource, and provide hands on classes to educate your wider community.

Partners:

Heartland Conservation Alliance, Green Guard Stewardship Program

How can I get started?

Heartland Conservation Alliance has developed a mapping tool to help prioritize the vacant lots that can have the most environmental and health benefits for urban communities. This mapping tool is designed to be easy to use for all and provides information about the vacant parcels of land and about what is happening around that land so that neighbors can make good decisions about places that provide the best opportunities for them. These opportunities may include identifying partners to work with, additional education on how to care for the land, and environmental benefits that the restored land could provide their community. 

Environmental benefits are sometimes referred to as ecosystem services.

 

  • These benefits occur when nature is functioning at its best, and when the people who are caring for the land work along with those natural functions.

  • These benefits may include holding and dispersing rainwater slowly so that the surrounding streets and properties are less impacted by flooding.

  • Another benefit hat healthy native plants can provide is increasing habitat for pollinators and birds. Healthy habitats of plants and animals create learning opportunities for all ages to see nature in action and provide safe outdoor recreation opportunities.

  • Flower and food gardens can provide community-building opportunities to create beautiful places to gather in addition to healthy food sources.

  • Trees are the “lungs” of our city, cleaning the air and cooling the temperatures through providing shade and evapotranspiration.

These benefits are especially important to increasing social and health equity in underserved urban neighborhoods.

Rainwater
Strategies
Community
Gardens
Gathering 
Spaces

Mapping Tools

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Kansas City
Parcel Viewer
MARC
Regional Natural
Resources Map
How To Use the Mapping Tool

The mapping tool has ten layers of information and shows where high scoring vacant parcels exist.

 

You can choose to view the following information:

  • Watershed and floodplain boundaries

  • Regional trails and bikeways

  • Neighborhood boundaries

  • Reported sites of illegal dumping

  • Renew the Blue projects and partners

  • Action Plan Areas

  • Land Bank Lots (City-owned, for sale)

  • Vacant adjacent lots larger than .7 acres

  • Vacant lots

  • Vacant lots with overland water flow

 

For a description of how to step through the layers of information and what the scores mean, download the guide here and see the instructional videos below.

Real Life Examples of Using the Map 

Coming Soon
Coming Soon
Coming Soon

"Our neighborhood has a lot of dumping."

"My neighbors and I would like to grow healthy food. Where can we start a garden and what does it take to have a successful community garden?"

"I’m looking at a lot near my home and I want to know what I can do with it."

The following are three short videos showing how to use the mapping tool:

Need Assistance?

 

Please be in touch to let us know how we can help you take the next steps to transforming vacant lots in your community to vibrant spaces full of life and beauty.

 

Contact Jill Erickson

jill [at] heartlandconservationalliance.org

816.813.0944

External Resources

Visit Us:

 

Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center

4750 Troost Avenue

Kansas City, MO 64110

 

(816) 759-7305, ext. 1148

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© 2013 Heartland Conservation Alliance