3 ways to cultivate more green space in your community
From vegetable gardens to bike paths, the nonprofit ioby gives tips for starting three types of green space in your neighborhood.
“Green space” means lots of different things to different people. If you’re the Environmental Protection Agency it might be something more formal like a park, or a community garden. To our friends at Strong Towns, green space might simply be the “non-place padding put between buildings to set them back from the street”–in other words, any place you can squeeze some trees, shrubs, and other plant life.
While your community might think of green space differently—or even disagree on exactly what it means—it’s likely that you and many of your neighbors would like to see more of it. Why wouldn’t you?
Green space provides a multitude of environmental benefits, including:
- Reduced heat buildup, soil erosion, and air pollution
- Improved rainfall retention, water quality protection, and energy savings
As well as benefits to human wellbeing, like:
- Reduced stress and sedentary habits
- Improved mood, attitude, mindfulness, & creativity
Sold on bringing more green space to your community? Here’s an intro to a few basic types of green space, a few of our favorite green space project ideas, and tips on how to start a neighborhood green space project where you live.
Green space type #1: The urban garden
Exemplary ioby campaign: Urban Gardening at Services for the UnderServed (SUS)
Community gardens are the classic green space, and maybe one of your first thoughts when thinking about green spaces. They give neighbors the physical space opportunity to grow their own fruits, veggies, and even flowers in urban places where it might otherwise be hard to do, and offer the neighborhood a chance to come together around a shared project.
SUS took this concept and made it even better by opening large organic gardens at four of its supportive housing programs in Brooklyn. These residences offer shelter and services to people with developmental disabilities, people living with HIV-related illness, and people with mental illness or at risk of homelessness. For these gardeners, the benefits of accessible green space can exceed the usual.
“The garden gives me something positive to do,” said Fred, an SUS resident. “When you don’t have something positive to do, the negative finds you. Having this responsibility is the reason I’ve stayed clean.”
Tips for getting started: Break it up!
Building and maintaining even one community garden is a lot of work—let alone four. SUS wisely broke the tasks into chunks and phases, beginning with a small vertical tomato garden behind one of its buildings in 2010. A couple of years later, they had established four gardens, and raised over $3,500 on ioby to buy soil, seedlings, and gardening tools—and to pay their resident-gardeners a wage for their work.
Green space type #2: The bicycle and pedestrian promenade
Exemplary ioby campaign: The Heights Line
National Street in Memphis is a former trolley line with a wide median that runs through the center of the city’s Heights neighborhood. While it had long been used simply as a thoroughfare for cars, residents could see the street’s potential as a community connector and green space for gathering.
In 2017, they banded together to stage a pop-up demonstration of what National Street could look like if transformed into a 1.75-mile multi-use path and linear park, complete with planters, benches, solar lights, and a welcoming “Heights Line” banner. Their pilot project sparked a large public engagement campaign that is informing the design of the eventual, permanent transformation of the street.
Tips for getting started: Band together!
The Heights Line is a big project, requiring input from a variety of sources. The Heights Community Development Corporation—which raised over $11,000 on ioby for pop-up demo materials, programming, and documentation—partnered with the socially engaged art collective Like Riding a Bicycle to create the Heights Line Design Studio: a hub space where local residents and passersby can get information about the project’s progress, share their ideas about the future of the street, and attend events to get to know each other better.
Green space type #3: The multi-purpose community space
Exemplary ioby campaign: H.A.C.E.R Project at Gilliam Family Community Gathering Place
Avital Aboody had been working in San Diego’s Logan Heights neighborhood for several years when she started looking for vacant lots that could be repurposed into green space. After plenty of sleuthing–and a stroke of good luck–Avital located the owner of one particularly apt lot, and found him receptive to the idea of opening it up for community use.
She invited a local community development corporation and architecture & design firm to help envision the revitalized space, including the construction of raised garden beds, a three-story treehouse, an amphitheater for performances, an outdoor movie screen, and even a maze. When the time came to break ground, local students, artists, police officers, and even Navy volunteers came out to lend a hand.
Tips for getting started: Ask, ask, ask!
Avital’s curiosity and persistence paved the way for this green space at every turn: from inquiring with the land’s owner and securing his permission to use it, to asking her neighbors to collectively chip in and raise over $4,000 on ioby to build its infrastructure, to querying some city workers about what they planned to do with those old utility poles they were removing (they became reclaimed shade structures to keep the green space cool). So the lesson is clear: ask away!
Know of a plot of land that would be perfect for a new green space? See how to find out who owns it!
If you want to see more green space in your community and have a great idea about how to make it happen, drop us a line! We can help you bring your vision to life.
Noah holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from the University of Puget Sound. Originally an Oregonian and Indonesian, he spends a lot of time shuttling around the world meeting old friends, making new ones, and eating plenty of good food. When he can stay put he enjoys shell fishing, visual design, and geeking out over urban planning and local governments.