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.