Successful Sustainable Community Projects Affecting the Black Community

Last post we explored how movements in history relate to the black experience and what we define as smart growth policies today. Here are how some sustainable community/smart growth policies are affecting the black community today.

Harlem Children’s Zone

Since 1997, Geoffrey Canada has been helping children and families in Harlem by concentrating all social services within a few blocks of each other. The program started in 1970 as Rheedlen, a truancy prevention program. Over the years, as the crack epidemic swept through Harlem, the organization shifted and grew to help maintain stability in the neighborhood. In the early 1990’s, they began tracking and evaluating their programs to make sure they were working, something that was innovative for non-profits at the time. The zone concept began with 24 blocks in 1997, and has now expanded to 100 blocks. Support is provided for parents from before birth until graduation from college.

Greening the Ghetto

Marjora Carter and her movement to re-green the Bronx added another black voice to the sustainable community movement and the green movement. Carter came up with her vision after not being able to find a job after college. She was walking her dog and she walked up on the Bronx riverfront and started envisioning a riverfront park with pedestrian and bike paths. That park opened in 2001 and in 2003 she started Sustainable South Bronx to build the green movement in the Bronx has been instrumental in creating green jobs, building rooftop gardens, planting trees and other efforts to bring progressive green and sustainable policies to the Bronx. Recently moving on from Sustainable South Bronx, she has established the Majora Carter Group which is sought after nationwide for advice on sustainable development issues.

Willow Oaks

Hope VI has been used in varying degrees to help clean up shady housing projects. However, it often fails in its promise to bring mixed incomes and instead results in pushing out residents. Right in my city of Greensboro, the community of Willow Oaks is a small example of what can happen when residents have a part in cleaning up their neighborhood. The neighborhood began its years as Lincoln Grove, a working-class area. However, with the arrival of the Morningside Homes federal housing project in the 1950’s, the area began a downward spiral. Crime rates rose, culminating in the 1980 Klan-Nazi shooting which would reverberate throughout the entire city of Greensboro and beyond. In addition, the units resembled military barracks more than homes and spent many years in disrepair. However, in 1996, Morningside residents, along with 50 other organizations including the City of Greensboro, new urbanist land developers and NC A&T State University began creating an urban village they renamed Willow Oaks.  Today there are waiting lists for the senior citizens home and the townhome village. Single family homes have been built, many occupied by professors at NC A&T. Low-income housing is scattered throughout the neighborhood and looks no different than the market-rate dwellings. Construction is under way on a community/child development center and retail in walking distance of the homes.

Community Gardens in Detroit

Since the 1980’s Detroit has been predominately black. In addition, with the shift in the auto industry in the last 30 years, it’s also been predominately empty. Lots of community leaders have worked to start filling some of those empty lots with community gardens. Over 1000 community gardens exist in the Detroit metro area. So far they have provided work for unemployed Detroit residents and fresh food options in a city which only has 7 full service supermarkets. While many gardens are held by community and school groups, the wide amounts of available land have began to attract private investors, notably John Hantz and his Hantz Farm project. He hopes to pioneer modern organic farming techniques and rebuild property values by buying up over 5,000 acres, creating a scarcity situation. In an area where home prices average at $15,000, property value growth will actually rebuild communities, instead of push out homeowners as is the case in most gentrifying and redeveloping neighborhoods. I’ve personally witnessed how much this movement has grown in the area, as my aunt, a Detroit-area elementary school principal, has sponsored a plot of land at a nearby community farm for her students, along with keeping a rain garden on her campus.

These are only a few of the many projects undertaken in and  by traditionally Black communities and leaders of color to rebuild once blighted communities and also incorporate modern urban planning and architectural elements. Next post will discuss what I believe it will take to continue these efforts and birth new ones.

  • Community gardens work well in urban areas for so many reasons. I really hope urban farms continue to grow.

    • Anonymous

      I agree. I’ve had people tell me recently that they will not catch on and continue on, but for people who don’t have anything else better to do, as many do in blighted and low-income communities, they are perfect.