Archive for January 2013

Patch 2

In the last post I reviewed the Home Gr/own Milwaukee proposal for Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge and launched the plan for Patchopolis’ Patch 2; converting foreclosed properties into a chain of grow houses. While foreclosers decreased nationally 3% in 2012, there are still a number of properties in cities like Milwaukee available for redevelopment (Les Christie, CNN Money). The map of Milwaukee below shows an area of the city surrounding the downtown area and how a decentralized food system could use a number of the foreclosed properties to serve a central location.


A system of decentralized urban food production that relies on available land is not a new concept in American society. During World War II communities were encouraged to start Victory Gardens to help support the war effort. Americans were rationing everything from rubber to food, so gardens were planted in available parks, school lots, and yards as a team effort among community members “to produce enough fresh vegetables through the summer for the immediate family and neighbors” (Smithsonian National Museum of American History). During the war more than 20 million victory gardens were planted, producing 9-10 million tons of fresh fruits and vegetables (Wessels Living History Farm). Today most Victory Gardens are gone, though a few sites still remain or have been revived as community gardens.

Victory Garden posters from WWII

In the last decade the desire to farm urban space has been reignited. Previously I have reviewed companies using roof tops in New York and old factories in Chicago who believe they can be profitable businesses. Another large, more traditional format of farm has been planned for Detroit by the Hantz Group. Their plan uses abandoned lots, which have been used by squaters as drug houses or have been otherwise linked to criminal activity (Hantz Woodlands). The plan with Hantz Farm is to clear a large area of land, removing the existing properties to shrink the city and start a large farm in its place.

Similar to Hantz Farms, Patch 2 utilizes foreclosed sites by purchasing land and properties from the city, but rather than clear the land uses existing homes to create green houses. Through stripping the siding, OSB, insulation, and interior finishes on the south side we are left with just the 2″x4″ framing and the roof on that part of the building. We then re-enclose the structure with glazing and use the structure to install growing systems. Be it building out trays or using a vertical window system, the following images show some early renderings of the concept.




The northern side of the building remains whole, and can either be used for cleaning and canning produce or as small apartments. Also, because these homes are within active neighborhoods, night shades can be added to improve glazing insulation value, better retaining heat over night while also blocking light so in winter it doesn’t disrupt neighbors when lights are needed due to shorter hours with sunlight. With a string of these houses scattered around town, foreclosed sites can be utilized that will cost less to buy from the city and can prevent crime increase in residential neighborhoods hit hardest by foreclosures.

In the next post I plan to review a number of DIY projects for urban apartment dwellers including home brewing, gardening, and canning.

Mayor’s Challenge and Home Gr/own Milwaukee

Many of you have probably heard of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challange, launched early in 2012 to entice mayors from across the country to work with community groups to “inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenger and improve city life.” The Challenge encourages participants to submit ideas that address economic needs, improve residential and business services, generate public engagement, and make local government more efficient (Bloomberg Philanthropies, Mayor’s Challenge). The hope with the competition is that solutions to solve one city’s local problem would be shared with and replicated by cities across the country. The prize is $5,000,000 to the winning idea, and $1,000,000 to four runner-ups, to realize their plan and put it into action. 305 cities entered proposals into the competition and twenty finalists (Bloomberg Philanthropies, Mayor’s Challenge) have been selected.

One of the twenty finalists selected is a plan called Home Gr/own Milwaukee. Developed through a “Tournavation” residents and local businesses were encouraged to submit ideas on how the City of Milwaukee’s portfolio of over 3,000 vacant lots and 600 homes could be utilized to launch an urban agriculture initiative (Tom Barrett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Milwaukee has a number of successful local agricultural initiatives including Walnut Way, Growing Power, Fondy Food Market, and Alice’s Garden, and this would be a chance to build on their success and spread local food growth and healthy eating concepts throughout the community. The proposal for Home Gr/own Milwaukee is not just one installation to produce local foods, but a neighborhood design concept that will create community gardens on vacant lots, encourage residents to start victory gardens, convert a foreclosed home into a community cafe, create a Food Hub for selling locally grown foods, launching a community composting facility, and starting an aquaponics facility (City of Milwaukee, Home Gr/own: Bloomberg Challenge). Through developing this installation in struggling communities, challenges with access to locally produced, high value foods and high foreclosure rates could be mitigated in one project.

An example neighborhood that would be developed by Home Gr/own Milwaukee

An example neighborhood that would be developed by Home Gr/own Milwaukee

The concepts behind Home Gr/own Milwaukee and one particular entry by Aaron Thiel from Milwaukee’s Tournavation remind me of a concept a colleague and I kicked around in studio late at night during graduate school. Our idea was to take foreclosed or abandoned homes and besides using the lot to grow food also strip down the house, especially on its south facade, to convert it to a green house that could produce year round. In this concept the structure and roof of the house remain for rain water collection and solar power generation, along with north facing insulated walls to prevent heat loss in winter months. Our vision was not to use this as a community rebuilding initiative, but instead to create a chain of grow houses that would feed a local business (like Patch 1, which I began developing in my September 10 blog post).

Recently I have been kicking around this concept again, and I think I will start developing it as Patch 2 in next week’s post with a few concept images and site programming ideas.