Phoenix groups looking to fill empty lots with gardens

November 19, 2012

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has unveiled a new project that will create temporary public space on land just north of downtown that currently sits vacant. As KJZZ’s Nick Blumberg reports, project planners hope this lot can be a model for other empty plots of land around the city.

trees native american woman blesses land tom waldeck Top, boxed trees at the Phoenix Renews site. Middle, a Native American woman blesses the land. Bottom, Tom Waldeck is the executive director of Keep Phoenix Beautiful. (Photos by Nick Blumberg - KJZZ)

NICK BLUMBERG: Until 1990, the corner of Indian School and Central was the site of the Phoenix Indian School. Now, the 15 acre lot is empty, or at least, it was empty. Monday, Mayor Stanton unveiled a project called Phoenix Renews that will transform the privately owned land into the home for a variety of temporary projects -- a therapy garden for autistic children, community murals, classes on composting and recycling. Stanton says this project will help create best practices for transforming other empty lots around Phoenix.

GREG STANTON: The reality is, in our city, because of the way it developed for a variety of reasons, we have too much vacant land. Forty-three percent of our city is currently vacant land, and too often a vacant parcel in the middle of the heart of the city, like where we are right now. It can be depressing.

BLUMBERG: The property owners have agreed to make the land available for as long as three years, and they’ll give a three-month warning if they plan to sell the parcel. Tom Waldeck is executive director of Keep Phoenix Beautiful, which helped plan and will manage the space.

TOM WALDECK: When you look around here, you see all these trees in boxes. That’s in case we’re told to clear off the lot, we can move these things to other lots around the city. What we build here on 15 acres can become 30 half acre projects or 60 quarter acre projects.

BLUMBERG: In addition to the 200 trees, refugees with agricultural backgrounds -- including people from Bhutan, Congo, and Iraq -- will use part of the land for a farm. They’ve already started prepping the soil. Stanton says this project is a first step.

STANTON: Vacant lots around the city [will use] the best practices that we learn from our project partners here today. You’re going to see many, many, many vacant lots around the city go from a negative into a positive.

BLUMBERG: Stanton admits there’s a lot of work to be done.