Continued KC Restoration Projects – Because the Gregory Ridge Neighborhood Association has been vital to our ability to conduct activities at our first land restoration project, our four-acre food forest trail project was renamed in 2021: The Retreat at Gregory Ridge. The story leading to the rename was a case-study teaching us a hard lesson: adult citizens and population groups who are experiencing need prefer collaborative community organizing to social work or handouts.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Health Forward Foundation, facilitated through Heartland Conservation Alliance, we conducted the 2020 Loving Our Lots outreach program that explored the potential of community-led vacant lot restoration for public health. Our primary objective was to discover community generated and accepted solutions that improve public health by mitigating crime-perpetuating dumping, and by localizing public leisure in nature-spaces.
First, a virtual panelist roundtable event reached 1,200 viewers wanting to improve their neighborhoods. Then, roughly thirty caring East KC residents attended four follow-up sessions to discuss their restoration preferences. Finally, we conducted four design charrette sessions with two neighborhood associations, after which the vacant lot designs were placed in their hands, along with the onus of project control.
External to the goals of the grant, we learned that if we want truly effective solutions enacted by people who feel distress daily, the following factors must be present in every engagement:
Mutual dignity and humbleness maintained at all times during convened collaboration.
Autonomous community control of solution design and implementation, with reporting and bookkeeping support provided only when deemed necessary by all collaborators.
Openness to two-way compassionate actions shared while pursuing mutual benefit (with the organization as a collaborator, not a benefactor.)
Leaders of East Kansas City neighborhoods responded well to this method of encouragement and support for effective stewardship relationships with vacant neighborhood nature-spaces.