- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

GARY, Ind. (AP) - An effort is underway in Gary to try to turn vacant properties into rain gardens that will help the city deal with its blight and stormwater management problems.

Gary, Cleveland and Buffalo, New York, are part of a pilot program by the Cleveland Botanical Garden called Vacant to Vibrant aimed at helping communities struggling with abandoned homes. Gary, which has about 6,800 vacant structures, received a five-year, $300,000 grant in 2012.

“I just see Gary as having a lot of potential that I believe has been unrealized,” Sandra Albro, director of research for Cleveland Botanical Garden, told The Times of Munster (https://bit.ly/1Oleu79 ). “It has a great location on the lake, naturally sandy soils and great proximity to Chicago.”

The city’s stormwater management problem stems from its combined sewers, which lead to untreated wastewater being released during heavy rains. Gary is operating under a consent decree from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because of its lack of a long-term pollution-control plan.

“As part of our stormwater project, we’re looking at how to reduce contaminants going into the system as well,” said Brenda Scott-Henry, Gary’s director of green urbanism and environmental affairs.

Albro said the work isn’t meant to be the answer for all vacant properties, but it is one approach.

“In many of the neighborhoods in Gary and Cleveland, these are the first investments that have taken place in these neighborhoods in decades,” she said.

Working on the vacant properties is Gary’s three-member urban construction team - part of Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson’s Gary for Jobs program, which provides job training and employment for former criminal offenders.

“We’re making it like picture-perfect now,” 21-year-old Marcel Little said of his work. “It made me feel good seeing the city having this kind of upkeep and making it look nice.”

Community engagement in the Aetna neighborhood began early on in coordination with Ryan Mackin, program administrator of the Cleveland Botanical Garden. There are five rain gardens at the site and metal letters spelling out “Aetna” attached to each. Solar-powered lights are also a feature.

The effects of the work are spreading throughout Gary’s neighborhoods.

“They’re sprucing up their own properties,” Scott-Henry said. “One guy said he’s going to put up a white picket fence, have a barbecue and invite his family over to look at the site. We have neighbors taking care of three, four, five lawns on a block just to keep it looking good.”

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Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com


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