The area just north of Grafton Hill is another historic Dayton neighborhood called Five Oaks. Each historic neighborhood in Dayton has its own vibe and to me, Five Oaks is one of the more difficult to get a handle on. Maybe that’s because there are several historic sub-districts within FO, or perhaps the gated streets, while creating “defensible space” throughout the neighborhood, also make it difficult for non-residents to casually wander through, but I’m told these gates do indeed serve their intended purpose of creating a strong sense of community and neighborhood ownership for the residents. This summer that sense of community was increased by one garden plot.
We know there are vacant lots all over the city of Dayton, and we know these lots can be purchased on the cheap. Often this conversation ends with a shrug: “So what? What is the value of one empty lot in Dayton OH?” It’s sad that when real estate is abundant, we devalue it instead of seeing the smaller ways we can make big improvements to our life. Okay fine. One vacant lot might mean nothing to anyone else, but one vacant lot on Manhattan Ave. in Five Oaks has brought neighbors together in unforeseen ways.
Manhattan Ave has had a few Dayton tear downs. These vacant lots become weed infested, trash-collectors; eyesores that have to be maintained somehow. Typically, this falls on the neighbors to do the day-to-day or weekly maintenance, because as we know, the City of Dayton cannot keep up with these lots. The one thing all historic district residents share regardless of neighborhood, is a propensity towards DIY solutions to neighborhood problems. Finding a productive use for an empty lot is hardly a major problem to a neighborhood who argued for gated streets, and so, a little neighborhood garden was born.
The Five Rivers Metro Parks Grow With Your Neighbors Project pitched in with advice- lasagna gardening to get the thing up and going asap. One neighboring homeowner was persuaded to redirect his rain water downspout into a collection barrel to save watering. Discarded and re-purposed materials like bureau drawers were utilized throughout this little patchwork plot, but the real magic was in how this one lot became a gathering place throughout the summer, as neighbors began to connect with each other.
Neighbors know each other in Five Oaks, or, if you don’t know your neighbors, it’s a good bet they know you. They also know who lived in the home before you moved in, and probably the people before that. The homes have long and storied histories and this community garden allowed the residents to share their own stories with each other, adding to the history here.
I talked about how easy it is to create capital in Dayton. Can you see how that is happening at this garden? There is, at the time of this writing, a large concentration of families in Five Oaks and kids take to gardening like ducks to water so having families involved in the garden was a natural thing. People who only knew of each other, neighbors who may have only nodded politely to each other in passing, were now putting shoulder to shoulder to share skills and materials- this is social capital. As one long-time resident, Jim, told me “people who didn’t know each other, now know each other well. That’s what a neighborhood should be.” This is how families put down roots and grow a support network. Neighborhood support is vital to healthy neighborhoods and crucial for creating strong cities. With Lots Links and Grow With Your Neighbors, this social capital can be created for a song! Impossible in many parts of the country.
Manhattan Ave had their Harvest Party last weekend. About 20-30 people attended. Twenty to thirty people sharing the bounty from one lot? Obvious to the neighbors in Five Oaks, this type of micro-development offers some serious potential to create all kinds of good- a strengthened neighborhood, new friends, better support systems created- in addition to fresh food in a part of Dayton where grocers are scarce. Jim said there is a change in the neighborhood, “People are deciding to stay put. They are choosing to make the best of this situation.” I feel this change as well throughout the area, but it’s more acute in the city of Dayton. In Five Oaks, as in Dayton OH, you really can change the world, one vacant lot at a time.
Photo credits: TLussier