In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, most of the houses in the Lower 9th Ward were vacant, many blighted. And many, many empty lots. Most of the residents did not, could not, return. The ones that did had a hard road ahead of them, rebuilding not only their own homes, but a whole community. Because what is community when the people you know are gone and the places you remember are destroyed? Even now, nearly 10 years after the storm, only about 25% of the population has returned.
In 2007, a few residents got together and started clearing an overgrown pre-Katrina community garden. Together, we cut down a jungle of weeds, planted vegetables and flowers, created pathways and formed a garden committee. Throughout, people who had them talked about their own gardens, and told stories about when everyone had something growing in the backyard, and traded produce with neighbors. These stories just naturally emerged. We smiled and laughed with one another, shared with one another. A couple years later, another group of neighbors decided to turn a vacant, blighted lot into a beautiful garden space. And, similarly, these same stories, this same connectivity, naturally emerged. We talked about what we wanted for our neighborhood and how we could have those things manifest in a garden space. We started with just an empty plot of land, littered with trash and tires. And, determined to combat blight in our community, we slowly transformed the space — clearing the land, planting trees, building raised garden plots for residents to adopt, installing a rain garden, and eventually a patio area with a shade structure for community gatherings. With the help of waves of volunteers, we developed a beautiful space in a neighborhood where signs of neglect still outweigh beauty.
Read this and other stories on urban agriculture The Nature of Cities