HOME GR/OWN Milwaukee
Milwaukee, United States
HOME GR/OWN Milwaukee empowers residents to transform neighbourhoods by re-purposing City-owned vacant lots into community food assets
Home GR/OWN is a program initiated by the City of Milwaukee to re-purpose vacant lots throughout the city and empower citizens to grow more of their own food.
The program has multiple goals:
- urban renewal and redevelopment,
- improving health and well-being,
- enhancing the aesthetics of neighbourhoods affected by high levels of crime, poverty and unemployment,
- and building community connectedness and cohesion.
The program is only in its third year of operation, however it has managed to secure strong engagement from numerous internal stakeholders across the City of Milwaukee, as well as with a diverse range of external stakeholders including businesses, not-for-profit associations, financial institutions and philanthropic foundations.
- North America
- Urban development and infrastructures
- Land-use and planning
- Inclusion and equity
- Urban renewal
- Food sustainability
- Crime and violence prevention
- Health and wellbeing
- Citizen engagement
- Capacity building of stakeholders
- Capacity building of administrators
- Community decision making bodies
- Public participation
- Public-private partnership
- Public-social-private partnership
- Self-help and voluntary work
Background and objectives
Milwaukee, like many other parts of the United States, has been very hard hit by the home foreclosure crisis that has been unfolding since the housing market peaked in 2007. With the advent of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and the resulting sharp rise in unemployment in many parts of the country, the capacity of many homeowners to continue to finance their mortgages has declined rapidly. Homes are both foreclosed and abandoned, and since the City of Milwaukee is the first creditor in line in cases where property taxes are unpaid, this has left the municipal government with a large reserve of foreclosed homes and vacant lots, where foreclosed and / or abandoned houses have been demolished. This spatial phenomenon is concentrated in socioeconomically deprived areas of the city’s inner north, and the population most affected is African American:
- Transform targeted neighbourhoods by concentrating City and partner resources, catalyzing new, healthy food access and greenspace developments.
- Make it easier to access local food and re-purpose city-owned vacant lots. We work within City government to streamline processes, permitting, and ordinances, making it easier to grow and distribute healthy food, start new food-based businesses, and improve vacant lots.
- Work within Milwaukee's community food system to link local growers to local markets, increase urban food infrastructure (water, access, compost), and support new urban farms and healthy food retailers and wholesalers
- PREVENT tax foreclosures with new City efforts and working with community partners
- MITIGATE blight and maintain City owned property to a “good neighbor” standard
- REVITALIZE neighborhoods by selling City properties and generating funds for renovation
- RENEW our neighborhoods by activating vacant spaces, involving city businesses, and creating job opportunities for city residents
- Office of the Mayor: Coordination with Strong Neighbourhoods Plan
- Department of City Development: City-owned real estate, site planning, and food policy
- Department of Public Works: Forestry services, composting, lot maintenance
- Milwaukee Healthy Department: Food safety, licensing, and ordinance revisions
- Department of Neighbourhood Services: Permits, and ordinance revisions
- Community Development Grants Administration: Support for HOME GR/OWN staffing
Liaison with External Partners: HOME GR/OWN is working with community businesses and organisations to help connect the dots between local food, health, neighbourhood and economic development work currently taking place. HOME GR/OWN seeks to expand the capacity of this community team and attract the financial resources to take partners’ community-based work to the next level. The program seeks to create new public/private partnerships, catalyze new hope and real street-level change in our most vulnerable neighborhoods across Milwaukee.
Representation on city-wide urban agriculture bodies:
- Milwaukee Food Council steering committee to ensure City collaboration.
- Institute for Urban Agriculture & Nutrition steering committee
- Coordinating vacant lot rehabilitation efforts with the Mayor Barrett's Strong Neighborhoods Plan.
- Building stronger links between new grower training efforts among local providers.
The four high-priority strategies are:
- Increase the use of city-owned foreclosed land and buildings for growing, processing, and distributing food to catalyze the local food value chain
- Increase the availability of healthy foods, including locally grown foods, at traditional neighborhood retail outlets in the targeted neighborhood
- Implement educational initiatives promoting nutrition and training for small businesses and growers
- Provide creative opportunities to generate income and commercialize urban agriculture
A key implementation strategy in the first phase of the Project (2013-date) has been the relaxation of city laws and permits to facilitate the use of city-owned vacant lots for a diverse array of urban agriculture activities, both for personal consumption and for commercial sale. This includes permits for keeping bees and chickens, and for securing licences for temporary food vending and for mobile food carts. The City has also produced resources such as a Farm Fresh Atlas and a Vacant Lot Handbook. The City of Milwaukee's Urban Agriculture Ordinances were updated in 2014.
In later phases, the City of Milwaukee aims to adopt a Food Charter to guide the development of a food policy; to ensure that 30 additional properties are producing food by 2016 and a further 173 properties by 2023; that 25 new properties distributing healthy, locally produced food are in operation by 2016 and 100 further outlets by 2023; and that a minimum percentage of residents are living within a 10-minute walk of healthy and nutritious food.
Financing and resources
The program leverages funds from the Strong Neighbourhoods Plan, which has an allocation of $23.8 mn for 2014/5. This covers City of Milwaukee staffing for the program and assistance to community and neighbourhood groups to begin re-purposing vacant lots, covering the costs of plants, trees and infrastructure. Home GR/OWN also seeks to leverage private sponsorship from businesses, and grant funding from philanthropic foundations. For example, a consortium of Milwaukee organisations were awarded a $75,000 grant from the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Liveable Cities for infrastructure to help with the repurposing of vacant lots for urban agriculture. This national grant was matched with $75,000 from Miwlaukee-based foundations, allowing the construction of a dozen community orchards in 2015.
Results and impacts
Accomplishments since 2013 Inception:
- Passage of major revisions to the city's urban agriculture ordinances
- Aided passage of revised Food Peddler ordinances
- New community gardens & orchards on City vacant lots: with partners Neu-Life, Groundwork MKE & Infallible Helping Hands
- Gillespie Park constructed summer 2014; named 2015 MANDI finalist
- Fundraising targets met to date
- 30 vacant lots have been coverted to food production
- 2 new corner stores serving healthy food have been opened
2015 Priority Projects:
- Development and 2015 construction of two new urban farms: Alice's Herbal Farm and Cream City Gardens
- 2015 construction of new mini-park at 37th St and Center St
- 20 new orchards and 6 new mini-parks, including Sunshine Park at 14th St. and North Ave., built through Partners for Places grant
- Final construction on All People's Church orchard stormwater features
Barriers and challenges
There was some initial concern about whether the City of Milwaukee would have capacity to deliver a program as ambitious and far-reaching as Home GR/OWN. However a key element of the program's design is collaboration with existing not-for-profit organisations, philanthropic foundations and private businesses. The City of Milwaukee also participates on multi-stakeholder forums, in particular the Milwaukee Food Council (established in 2007) and the Milwaukee Institute for Urban Agriculture and Nutrition. These horizontal governance spaces allow for disagreements to be aired and resolved rather than generate into unproductive tensions and conflicts.
Lessons learned and transferability
A key success factor is the integration of the Home GR/OWN program as a major plank of one of the City's priority programs over the next five years, the Strong Neighbourhood Plan. The City has clearly and strongly embraced urban agriculture as a key strategy for urban renewal and repurposing of vacant lots. This builds on the momentum and leadership generated by the dynamic, diverse and active urban agriculture community in Milwaukee (see Victory Gardens Initiative as one representative of this sector).