RVP Reflection Series: Odera’s Takeaways

Author: Odera Igwe

The Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference (RVP) was a national conference dedicated to creating community cohesion through new strategies to transform vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties into community assets. This conference was a great opportunity for me to meet people all over the US who specialize in different aspects regarding the revitalization of vacant land; law, youth engagement, community advocacy, architecture, and more.

The first session I attended was Community-Driven Visioning: A design thinking approach, and was probably one of the most memorable sessions. This session discussed designing community projects with visions of community members. At Grounded Strategies, this is a tactic that is already enforced in our project planning. However, seeing how this concept was executed on a larger scale was something that I thought would be more challenging. Bridge of Grace took this opportunity to open a space where children and youth could learn about their community through art. A program they discussed, called “Tired-A-lot”, gave youth from the community architecture experience and also made them a part of a bigger project. From the architecture training experience, the children left with a greater understanding of their community, architecture, and art and how it can bring together a community.

Hinge Collective is another organization that did similar projects in Philadelphia. Hinge Collective used visual art and storytelling to decorate their abandoned property. This is a tactic that I believe should be used more in our projects. Each resident has an individual connection to their community. Whether that connection is large or small, it is something that needs to be acknowledged and woven into the fabric of the community’s history.

Though there are several ways to address abandoned properties and vacant land, it is not a secret that arts-based methods can help residents reclaim vacant lot as well as instill a sense of community pride. “From Underpass to Unused Storefronts” discussed how art, mainly murals and galleries, were used in different communities to combat trauma and disaster. In Caguas, Puerto Rico this concept looked like creating galleries that showcase art but also serve as a space for healing through yoga, meditations and other programs for those impacted by Hurricane Maria. This is especially important in areas like these where communities are devastated.

This made me think about how underserved communities always facing trauma. Though the communities we serve as Grounded Strategies may not encounter many natural disasters like hurricanes, political tragedies happen all around them. Redlining, gentrification and environmental injustices are just a few examples of what these communities endure that have an effect on community cohesiveness. Engaging community members through this shared trauma of community devastation and transforming it into art can help define a community and share its history and importance.

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