Public Competition Solves Community Problem

lots competition winner_photo by Paul Sableman

Vacant properties have increased over the past few years since the housing and foreclosure crisis swept the country.  Communities have spent time figuring out how to address the issue, which is partly out of their control when banks and other private investors hold title to many vacant properties.  One city is bringing the problem to the people – Louisville, Kentucky recently announced a competition for residents, non-profit organizations, businesses, community groups, anyone with an idea, to offer redevelopment projects for vacant properties.  The “Lots of Possibility” competition will award four winners with funds to carry out their proposals on lots owned by the city – two temporary and two permanent projects

Vacant lots are harmful to a neighborhood for several reasons, including health issues, property values, and safety concerns.  It is an important issue that impacts an entire community, so this type of public problem-solving is beneficial.  First, it brings attention to the issue of vacant properties.  People that know and care about the issue are no longer municipal leaders, non-profits, or neighbors of these vacated homes.  Residents who are not directly related to the issue are made aware of it and learn the reasons why the problem impacts the entire community.

This increased awareness creates solidarity within the community, uniting people who come together for a specific purpose to better their neighborhood.  This also gives residents from different areas within the community the opportunity to build relationships with one another.  These intentional connections and community solidarity are valuable for addressing future neighborhood issues.

Similar competitions to “Lots of Possibility” have been utilized in other cities to form a community effort to revitalize neighborhoods.  St. Louis, New Orleans, and Youngstown, Ohio have held similar competitions that ask community members to craft unique projects on vacant properties.  Projects from other cities have included a public chess venue, a sunflower garden, an orchard, a putting and chipping green, and food gardens.  These projects made neighborhoods more desirable to live in and met the needs of the community.  For example, inner city youth in Youngstown don’t usually have access to golf courses because they require more space than is available in an urban environment, so the creation of a putting and chipping green allows the youth to learn the game inside their neighborhood.

The competition offers the opportunity for individuals or small neighborhood teams to execute innovative ideas that would otherwise be impossible due to lack of funding and significant community connections.  Allowing residents to play a part in the making of their neighborhood creates a culture of community pride.  It gives community members agency over their neighborhood and empowers them to continue making their community a desirable place to live.  The “Lots of Possibility” competition in Louisville is a positive solution to a community problem – it creates lasting changes and strengthens the neighborhood.

For more information on community competitions that address vacant properties:
Louisville, Kentucky
Youngstown, Ohio
St. Louis, Missouri
New Orleans, Louisiana

By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator

Photo by Paul Sableman