July 28, 2017

This lifelong Flint resident is transforming vacant lots into public gardens

Get inspired by these three stories of innovation and ingenuity across America

Flint, Michigan, has been on a downward trajectory for decades, only to be worsened by its recent water crisis. Locals like Edna Sabucco still believe in their community and are helping to renew it. Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Going green in Michigan: Edna Sabucco has lived in the Eastside neighborhood of Flint, Michigan, since she was a teenager, and she’s witnessed how the neighborhood has change for the worse: Flint has one of the highest crime rates in the country, and a 41.2 percent poverty rate, roughly three times the national average. Sabucco was a member of several neighborhood groups, but was dissatisfied with their direction, so she founded her own, the Eastside Franklin Park Neighborhood Association, in October of 2015. The group got right to work with a neighborhood cleanup initiative, teaming up with a local church to clean up 17 vacant lots. Over time, the association began securing small grants from local organizations, and now, Sabucco hopes to open a public green space on eight vacant lots across the street from her home. The association will also be advised by two local organizations, Edible Flint and Applewood Estate, on what fruits and vegetables to plant in the space. Planting will begin later this year. “Everybody’s days are numbered,” Sabucco told Next City. “You don’t know if you’re going to wake up in the morning, you don’t know if you walk in the street if you’re going to be run down, but by God, you know what? You have an obligation to your neighbors, to the other people in the community.”

A neighborly blessing: Roman Espinoza of Watertown, New York, first heard about blessing boxes—small, donation-based food pantries for non-perishable items—from an “NBC Nightly News” feature earlier this year. He realized the need for it in his own community when he learned that his classmates at a local community college had been using a school-run food pantry. “I just assumed if you go to the college that you’d be able to eat,” Espinoza told the Watertown Daily Times. He decided to build a blessing box of his own, and set it up on his front lawn accompanied by a small sign: “Take What You Need. Bring What You Can. Above all, Be Blessed.” “I’ve gotten a couple of requests from people around town for boxes for their property,” Espinoza told CNN. “Watertown, New York, in the next five years, could be known as the city of blessing boxes.”

Entrepreneurial endeavor: Newark’s proximity to New York City and its relative affordability are making it a big draw for entrepreneurs and tech companies. Lyneir Richardson, the executive director of Rutgers University’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CUEED), is trying to bring those benefits to underserved members of his community and entrepreneurs who don’t have established networks or access to capital-rich entrepreneurial circles. In March, CUEED launched a Black and Latino tech initiative, to prepare minority entrepreneurs for success. “Less than 2 percent of all technology startups are led by black or Latino individuals,” Richardson told Black Enterprise. “The reasons for this are two-fold: black and Latino entrepreneurs have difficulty securing capital, and they also have challenges building business teams that get accepted into top tier accelerators.” In April, CUEED announced a partnership with Goodwill to help disabled entrepreneurs open and stock their own online marketplaces. “I wanted my personal mission to be seeing opportunity in people and places that others didn’t,” Richardson told NationSwell.

Mikhail Klimentov

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor for The Renewal Project.