Ron Finley has been busy digging up a new future for LA. His urban guerilla gardening, featured in a TED talk, encourages kids in South Central LA to help him produce beautiful vegetables from unused bits of land around LA, proving that you can make silk from a sow’s ear after all. Ron, who initially got resistance from the city, was joined by a growing group of volunteers who aim to transform the streets from a food desert to a food forest.
L.A. leads the country in the number of vacant lots. The city owns 26 square miles of vacant lots, which is equal to 20 central parks. Vacant land and abandoned buildings are not only an eyesore, but also have a significant impact on health outcomes. You’ve probably heard of the broken windows theory, which states that visible signs of neglect signify that a neighborhood is disorderly and not maintained well, inviting minor crimes such as vandalism and trash discarded on the streets. These small crimes were found to be the tipping point for more violent crimes. As a result, neighborhood residents socially isolate themselves out of fear, which leads to decreased physical activity, increased drug use, and decreased social ties, among other things.
Efforts are growing in many large cities to identify landowners of vacant space and encourage community development, either for gardens, playgrounds or park space. Los Angeles Open Acres created a map of open lots. Users can view the lots by neighborhood, district, and if they’re publicly or privately owned. There are vacant lots in pretty much every part of the city, but not surprisingly, they cluster around poorer neighborhoods that historically have less safe, outdoor space available. If you’re interested in re-purposing a particular lot, you can see who owns it and if the owners has any known plans for the land. In New York, LivingLots NYC also created a map of vacant lots. The website serves as a resource where people can sign up if they’re interested in engaging with others to repurpose the space.
Ron Finley’s determination to use vacant land to provide his neighbors with access to fresh produce is praiseworthy. In a city where most people cannot afford to own land, using the cities’ numerous vacant lots is not only smart, it’s good for everyone’s health.