Tag Archives: Gardens

Neighborhoods, USA

February 20, 2017 by
Photography by Provided

Chris Foster quickly developed a deep appreciation for his Gifford Park neighborhood after arriving in 1986. He joined its neighborhood association when it was launched a couple of years later and served as its president for a two-year stint that ended in 2001.

But it took a trip to Pittsburgh that year to trigger an epiphany. He realized what his midtown neighborhood could become.

On the trip, members of Omaha’s Planning Department and folks from various Omaha neighborhood associations traveled to the Steel City to attend that year’s “Neighborhoods, USA” national conference.

At the NUSA conference, hundreds of attendees passionate about improving neighborhoods and building stronger communities gather to swap ideas, participate in educational workshops, tour neighborhoods, and honor the innovative and life-changing work of neighborhood betterment projects.

And 2017 will see an exciting culmination of the efforts of city planners and Omaha neighborhood advocates like Foster—the 42nd annual NUSA conference is coming to Nebraska for the first time. The conference will be held at the Omaha Hilton Hotel and CenturyLink Center from May 24-27.

“NUSA coming to Omaha is a great training, educational resource, and networking opportunity for Omaha neighborhood leaders to learn about what’s going on in neighborhoods all around the country,” says Julie Smith, a conference organizer and neighborhood alliance specialist with ONE Omaha. “We will learn about programs other cities have and know that they face a lot of similar challenges, as well.”

A Fourth of July parade attracts residents in the Maple Village neighborhood.

Years in the Making

Discussions to bring NUSA to Omaha started six years ago, according to Norita Matt, a city planner who attended that 2001 conference with Foster. Years of planning led to Omaha’s presentation to NUSA leaders at the 2015 conference in Houston that landed the bid to host this year’s event.

“There is a lot that goes along with it; you have to have the mayor’s support and plenty of city support,” Matt says.

The Omaha conference will include local keynote speakers; dozens of local, national, and global workshops; awards for exceptional neighborhood betterment programs; local and national exhibitors; and a mayor’s reception.

The highlight of each conference, Matt says, are the Neighborhood Pride Tours during which attendees learn how neighborhoods use innovation and elbow grease to better their communities. More than 20 tours, including two in Council Bluffs, will focus on the rich history, unique designs, and revitalization of neighborhoods, she says. Tours are capped with receptions, local entertainment, and demonstrations of different cultures through music and dance.

“Going into the neighborhoods gives us a chance to hear about challenges and what people are doing to bring back the neighborhoods,” she says.

Gifford Park is one of many neighborhoods to participate in the city’s annual Spring Clean Up.

Two Omaha keynote speakers will highlight a key crucial neighborhood betterment effort. Jose Garcia and Terri Sanders will present their groups’ efforts to revitalize the 24th Street corridor, Omaha’s original “Street of Dreams,” connecting North and South Omaha, including the Fair Deal Village MarketPlace near 24th and Burdette streets.

Fostering a Better Community Life

For Foster of the Gifford Park association, NUSA coming to Omaha holds special significance because of his profound experience in Pittsburgh more than 15 years ago.  >

“I described it as a life-changing experience because I saw a presentation on inclusiveness involving community gardens,” Foster recalls, describing how he was “blown away” by a Seattle speaker who described the city’s network of community gardens.

Foster and others spent hours with the speaker at a local coffeehouse, and he then found himself doodling ideas about a vacant piece of land behind the Gifford Park home he shares with his wife, Sally.

Soon after, they were cleaning up the double-wide lot and purchasing the parcel for $4,000. Others joined in to transform the lot at 3416 Cass St. into the Gifford Park Community Garden. A youth gardening program soon followed.

A mural on North 30th Street emphasizes the history of the Florence neighborhood. Photo by Mele Mason.

A couple of years later, the garden expanded and an “adventure playground,” complete with a double-decker treehouse, was built as a way to build community ties among Gifford Park families and children.

Since then, a host of neighborhood activities and services have been developed, including a community bike shop and a free youth tennis program held each August at 33rd and Cass streets.

The conceptual seeds that revitalized Gifford Park’s community were planted at that NUSA conference years ago.

“NUSA provides me with some leadership development,” Foster says. “It gets people excited, invigorated, and motivated to want to take on projects in neighborhoods or work with the city and take on leadership roles. As volunteers, we have more effect on our neighborhoods than almost anything else. We’re the owners and stakeholders who can actually get it done.”

Visit nusa.org for more information.

The 42nd annual NUSA conference is coming to Nebraska for the first time. The conference will be held at the Omaha Hilton Hotel and CenturyLink Center from May 24-27.

A mural in Prospect Village celebrates the North Omaha neighborhood.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Dundee’s Front Porch

May 10, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There was a time when most homes were built with a front porch, a space that practically screamed to passerby and neighbor alike, “Here we are! Right out in full view! C’mon over and we’ll get to know each other.”

In this increasingly plugged-in, online, and tuned-out world of ours, the idea of a front porch seems to have gone the way of rotary dial phones and VHS.

The rise of community gardens may seem to be primarily about digging in the dirt in anticipation of alternatives to store-bought tomatoes that taste like Styrofoam, but Mary Green knows there’s more.

“A community garden is more than being just about food,” says Dundee Garden board president Mary Green. Just as with other social, philanthropic, religious, or special interest organizations, Green says, “A community garden fills a void. A community garden is as much about community. It’s about old people mixing with young people, and renters mixing with homeowners, and people of all economic means coming together to get to know people that they wouldn’t otherwise ever know.”

The Dundee Community Garden is an example of one of the more established of communal efforts, and the volunteers who sow the seeds of fertile success there had a bumper crop of accomplishments last year.

The group that was established in 2009 bought the property at 49th and Underwood Avenue after a major funding drive bolstered in part by support from the Sherwood Foundation and Kiewit Foundation. Water hydrants were installed. A permanent shed with a cement floor was added. Plantings of six fruit trees followed. New tools were acquired. Solar panels on the shed are planned for this season to power their new electric mower.

The group also held a series of educational workshops at the nearby AV Sorensen Community Center. The neighborhood flocked to their ice cream social and watermelon feed. And the garden was a stop for bicyclists on the Tour de Garden.

But the work of the 44 members who dig in Dundee has ramifications that go far beyond their own kitchen tables.

The garden donated 680 lbs. of fresh produce to the residents of the Omaha Housing Authority’s Underwood Tower Apartments located right across the street. And 100 lbs. of sweet potatoes were given to refugee families served by the Yates Community Center. A special “Neighbor Garden” was carved out of the space with the idea that any visitor could help themself to a handful of produce.

Jean Imray, a former member and owner of the Dundee Gallery located six doors down from the site, plans to check out the Neighbor Garden.

“It was great when I had my own plot,” Imray says, “but now I can still enjoy the produce through the Neighbor Garden on my walk home. A little basil. Some tomatoes. Cook up a little pasta, and that’s a great dinner.”

Family gardening, Green says, is also a learning opportunity for children.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction in growing your own, healthy food,” Green says. “But it’s just as exciting to see all the kids learning about gardening. A lot of parents tell me that their kids now eat things they wouldn’t have touched before because of the experience of growing food themselves.”

The urban vibe in the heart of Dundee also makes the Dundee Garden one of the city’s most visible showcases for sustainability.

“One of the things about our garden,” Greens says, “is that it is a very public space on a fairly busy street that also has a lot of pedestrian traffic. People wave. They ask questions. They often stop just to chat. We get to know more and more people that way.”

Just like it was in a bygone era when the front porch was the focus of so much community connecting.