One on One with Mark Rawlings, Northside ReClaim Ambassador

The Terraced Bioswale Lot site pre- and post-ReClaim summer.

In 2014, Grounded Strategies launched ReClaim Northside, a program purposed to reclaim vacant land parcels and create high-quality community greenspace. In the process, more than 5,400 vacant lots in the Northside were surveyed, and 14 community residents were recruited and trained as Ambassadors. Among the 8 unique projects created throughout the Northside, the Terraced Side-lot Bioswale by Ambassador Mark Rawlings is an exceptional example of community-empowered design.

Ten years ago when Mark first purchased his home in the Troy Hill neighborhood, there was a neighboring overgrown lot. Mark was able to contact the owners, and though they were initially unwilling to sell the lot, they allowed Mark to maintain it as he saw fit. Mark went to work clearing the yard of invasive species and making minor installations like a fire pit and benches. Shortly after, Mark learned of the ReClaim Northside Ambassadors program and saw fit to apply with his neighboring lot in mind.

The resources provided by the ReClaim Northside program expanded Mark’s vision for the site into a multi-year investment. The primary objectives were to restore the main part of the lot facing the street and to excavate the years of debris built up from the demolition of the home that stood on the lot. The bricks and wood beams of the old home would later become 4 3-ft. retaining walls, wood chips, and other design elements for the project. However, Mark wasn’t alone to do the work; during ReClaim summer, numerous volunteer groups lent sweat and support to the project, including the neighbors who shared Mark’s greenspace vision.


Neighbors helping neighbors.

Since 2015, the Terraced Sidelot Bioswale has benefitted from thousands of hours of volunteer time and monetary support to become a 15-ft. raised terrace incorporating vegetable garden beds, a bioswale to capture rainwater, a fish pond, fruiting trees, and open grassy space for play. The project inspired Mark’s neighbors to do something about the vacant lots near them, including the original owners of Mark’s lot. Once they saw how Mark had transformed the space, they transferred ownership of this lot and several others to Mark and other neighbors. Now, there are an additional 5 stewarded lots on Mark’s street, forming a vibrant green community presence.

Mark continues to build on his original idea for the Terraced Sidelot Bioswale and could use some support. Behind his neighborhood is about 2-3 acres of parkland that he is interested in shaping into a garden, gathering space, and dog park. However, this requires some landscaping expertise and land-moving machinery. Mark’s advice to the greenspace champions of the future: “Get out and do it. Start with baby steps, get it moving, and look for help as you go. It’s nice to come home to blooming flowerbeds as opposed to grapevine snarled debris.”

The landing of the terrace has a garden, seating, and fire pit.
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