City of Flint, USA
10th July, A.D. 2015
Healing the neglect by involving the entire Community.
By the Beginning of FISCAL YEAR 2016 for the community of Flint Vehicle City, the Land Bank has acquired more properties than its corps of volunteers & neighborhood managers can adequately manage. The parks have grown partially wild: a baseball field becomes a wheat field, except for the auspicious backstop and diamond. Fewer of the secondary school students come to help mow, pick up trash, and manage the branches that have fallen onto abandoned properties.
As a result, the 80 neighborhood teams spend less time per site, mowing only the curbside and 15 feet onto properties, cutting littler and leaving broken glass to fester near the cracks. In compensation, volunteer squads have sowed clover & thistle towards the remainder of the lot-space, which grow in a wild mixture that includes Queen Anne's Lace & many sun-loving grasses. But what about behind the houses, where gradually the real take-over occurs?
Since the City of Flint now budgets only $330,000 for its entire park-system, we will learn to be content with the efforts its dedicated employees still provide us. It means we are more likely to see a cutback in the total service-offering from the parks. We have to pick up after ourselves, and be efficient & resourceful in the future if it is crucial to get along together and to survive.
Neighborhood ImprovementFor the first time, Government Officials & their Reports suggest that residents accept responsibility for the well-being & maintenance of this beloved community. We may take steps forward to spruce up our own homes & property, but also the house that was only recently abandoned deserves attention as well. This is a thankless chore, but the reward for residents is a safer environment.
That fact that some of the Land Bank's properties have gone-to-wild coming into FY2016 creates issues for the foundations of old homes. If we are to truly be of service, we should try to keep the Real-Property safe & sound, while also seeking to improve rather than maintain the outside. We should try to be aware of the total land rather than the space near the sidewalk & road. If we are to be of service, we may search into actions that will both enhance the value of these properties, and to reduce the time & effort needed to tend these properties. What are the rehabilitative actions that the residents of Flint be able to take?
The very first issue of Reclamation has to do with the psychological impact that vacated houses have on neighbours. We know that neighbors usually look after these houses, mowing and tending to these Lots. It is easy to call up the Real-Estate Agent who now holds the property-deed, or the Land Bank to see if you can help with the work they do. A recent expenditure from the City of Flint has gone to build 3 new tool-sheds for the housing of new mowers & landscaping equipment, thus making tools available to each neighborhood.
None of Flint's local parks are perfectly maintained, but Riverfront Park & Kearsley certainly receive more attention than most. The Parks that are along the City of Flint's "suggested walking routes" are cared for more by both paid-workers and volunteers. That's why if you want to actually help, you should go to the more neglected parks like Basset & those that are along ML King Road, north of Flint River.
Is the Land Bank similar to FNIPP?A program that started in July 1976 is Flint Neighborhood Improvement Preservation Project (FNIPP), http://fnipp.org/events/ . This was a $3.5M City of Flint and $10.1M Investment from the C.S. Mott Foundation that, like the Land Bank, had 3 Tool Libraries and many active volunteer-foremen to help residents with Home-Maintenance Projects.
During the 1970's the bulk of FNIPP expenditure was toward the actual cost of materials, whereas Labour was voluntary and tools were owned by the organisation itself. This means that there were many small projects that directly went to value-maintenance of the house.
After 1980, FNIPP* began to solicit opinions from the populace in order to improve its policies. As a result, the program began to finance Home-Improvement projects and even pay labor-costs for well written proposals. This means the overall cost per job became higher; FNIPP was able to help less and less because beaurocracy was growing inside of its organisation, and the public felt increasingly beyond arm's reach. Properties FNIPP gave to the housing market were sold "at cost", and people who bought and improved homes could no longer compete as independent Real-Estate Agents. The $40.4 million that the Charles S. Mott Foundation was promised to collect at the end of FY2016 is unlikely to be seen for these reasons.
This should be a stern SignPost for the #GeneseeCountyLandBank, who is coming into its 12th year. We should remember that this Group is part investment, part grant, and its donors/capitalists do sincerely want to see the City of Flint well-kempt and beautified. But When nearly $6M is going to one project, the "Chevy Commons", and its design includes "Low Maintenance" GreenSpace, we should expect that the rewards of such investment are, in a sense, limited from the start.
The City's ConditionWe may take the pollution out of Flint, but we know this does not stop the polluting. We must be more active in the patrol of Land if we can hope to help residents keep the peace of their own homes & neighborhoods. The honest citizens of Flint are willing to receive assistence, and are more friendly than outsiders have expected. There is Desperation because the children have not been shown the good things they can do - the good things children should be expected to do. This Desperation is often masked as violence when the youth have gone too long without guidance. One thing is clear, the people of Flint do not need outsiders coming in unless they are seeking to help this community as a whole.
When investors come from Lansing & Washington D.C. into the City of Flint, they want to see more labors done that visibly increase the value of the Land Bank as well as homeowner properties. There is a new mandate to reappraise at All Properties, $3.5M paid to outsource the Assessor's Role. All non-repossessed properties within the City Limits will be documented. The City Governance is going by way of Detroit, taken over by jugglers from higher Federal Centers. The remaining residents are faced with whether to help their city through direct efforts, or to allow Lansing's Oversight to gradually partition the city to speculators, whom are in most cases unwilling to settle into our district.
While the Shade and Stable Growth of low maintenance† foliage may be one good thing, when these trees become mature, they do little to attract the attention of the public, or tourism in general. Why would outsiders want to visit Flint if the new programs for the city are like everywhere else? I am suggesting that, instead of Locust trees could we plant Walnut? Could we harvest the Oaks of Bassett Park and begin a new agricultural experiment there?
High MaintenanceIn addition to these changes, I want to see vacant lands managed better. Since these "Wild Lawns" are only mowed now once-per-month, we should be more careful with the mulch. Let's designate clear Composting heaps, and let current residents use these spots for their own yard and kitchen wastes. Let's find better ways of involving the neighborhood volunteers, and to attract more out-of-state immigrants into This City. How can we do this but by bringing in a better variety of plants in the process.
One central issue is how foundations of soon-to-be foreclosed homes are affected by roots that are surrounding the Real Property. If the plants that mature around this perimeter mature, they are likely to reach into these cement housebeds, allowing water to seep in and destroy the foundation. Let's encourage neighborhood Green & Clean managers to cut away this extra growth.
But we should also think about using the back of each lot and the perimeter of the property more wisely. Instead of allowing weeds to grow along fences, let's plant grapes. Instead of putting in Maple & Oak, let's plant Cherry & Peach (Almond). The type of agricultural experimentation that I am suggesting for the people of Flint is long-term. We should look at all the abandoned properties and assess them. We look at the space and the connections that go between vacant spaces, assess the possibilities for maximum value of horticulture, just as the outside assessors will be assessing other properties according to its maximum commercial usage. We design Gardens for every vacant homes with a different polyculture, and create pathways from every garden to the local compost heap, where fertile matter is accumulated. This is the only real way neighbors can reclaim property space and reconnect with the land.
Grow our own Natural ResourcesFor America, it is not new to want to have all the industrial resources. Like Thomas Jefferson, we should want American Industries to be compatible with the Natural Resources that America has, but we must "import" the seeds of horticulture, at first, to make this possible. The medium-to-high maintenance plants which have value for both the wood & fruits they bring must come. Through a scientific approach of successive cultural introduction then propagation, the City of Flint will regrow the resources needed vitally for its Industry. These are more useful to the shops we would like to see back-in-operation.
Certain Programs currently exist for residents to even begin such a program of their own initiative. For $1/year, I can "adopt a space", one of the overgrown Lots in order to begin my agricultural experimentation. Most of these are given to encourage locals to take responsibility for the plight of Flint and manage them as their own yards. I suggest that this is an easy investment for any person who wants to be a city farmer, and to think about putting in Perennial varieties of plants like Currant, Mulberry, Walnut, & Sandalwood rather than annual crops like Tomatoes, Potatoes, and Peppers.
Let's think "outside the lawn", into a system of Edible Forest Gardens that allows for a harmony of nature. Instead of wild trees growing above grasses, let's make the canopy lower and include many types of plants in between these heights. If we can overshade the Garden, then we can do away with many grasses entirely, leaving room for Ferns & Chamomile. The possibilities are beyond the human imagination:
It Starts with the EarthThese types of garden cannot begin without the compost heaps that I have mentioned. It is simply too costly to "import" the organic soils from outside the neighborhood. During the first years, annual crops are necessary. A base-stock of fruit trees is necessary first before more "tasty" varieties can come later on. The rewards of Edible Forest Gardens is not immediately seen, unless they are seen in the beginning stages: the upbuilding of fertility to a suitable threshold. We must build a community-wide organic scrap program, and retain all the organic matter that our yards & kitchens produce. Every 3-5 homes can share a composting station: a drop-off point that is collected and redeposited in the neighborhood compost heaps. These must be both well-maintained and available for local gardeners:
Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.Charles Eisenstein, 2015: http://charleseisenstein.net/we-need-regenerative-farming-not-geoengineering/
This system of design requires a Vision of the final Edible Forest Garden. Using Photographs and SunLight Calculations, and in accordance with the climate of SouthEast Michigan, we draw Mature Plants (our favorites) onto the BluePrint of the Property. This skill requires the basic knowledge of the Boy Scouts of America's Landscape Architecture Merit Badge, but selects a very nonmodern variety. The types of plants used appeal to Jefferson's farmer more than the traditional suburbanite. We should seek international sources for new seeds and root cuttings, bringing in "the wonders of the world" to Flint, USA. From crocus to sage and from dwarf Apple to sandalwood, we may find that many communities will assist our charitable intent to convert the lands into an Edible Garden. Many orchards of Michigan & Maine might be willing to donate their variety after we have grown a suitable base of compatible trees.
The Benefits are ObviousBut further, this initiative must become a city-wide program, endorsed by officials in their public policy and involving the entire neighborhood, before it is to become successful. Residents need to understand these changes and know how to cooperate before such policies can take root. But then the rewards of such a program become soon obvious:
- No longer is Blight removed, but Beauty is actually restored and Land Values increase
- It is easier to recruit volunteers when the vision for the community is clear to them
- More People will want to move into houses where gardens are actively being maintained by the community
* FNIPP, Flint Neighborhood Improvement Preservation Project, Inc. (March 1982) 711.59FL
†Chevy Commons project expected to pick up steam this spring, mLive.com 13 Feb 2015. Schuch, Sarah.