By Lynn Sygiel, editor, Charitable Advisors
In the 1980s, Liverpool, England started an experiment. The city worked with young people to improve areas that had been neglected. After seeing some success, Groundwork UK was established by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to promote local partnerships that could rebuild Britain’s bypassed urban communities through community-led strategies.
Its success led U.S. National Park Service staff to travel to the U.K. to learn more. Impressed, the Park Service launched Groundwork USA in 1996, recognizing its potential to build upon the human and environmental assets found in every community.
It was joined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Program to establish pilot programs in three communities — Bridgeport, Conn., Lawrence, Mass., and Providence, RI. Based on success in those cities, additional programs were established in Concord, N.H., Somerville, Mass., and Yonkers, N.Y.
In 1999, the New York’s metropolitan Regional Plan Association joined the partnership to help establish the Groundwork USA national office to support the growing network. The organization has a home base in Yonkers and just had a recent deadline for potential site applications.
Today there are 23 chapters, which based on the U.K. program are called trusts, in the U.S., including one in Indianapolis. The U.S. program is designed to help local stakeholders in communities struggling with environmental, economic and social decline.
“The National Park Service was looking at it as a way to get some work done in the urban core, and at the same time engage urban youth, kids of color. They wanted these kids to become future advocates and future visitors of the parks. They realized that these young people are not visitors, don’t feel welcome and have barriers. So Groundwork was started as a means to build that urban constituency and also to get some work done,” said Phyllis Boyd, Groundwork Indy’s executive director.
Each trust, while independent, works with other trusts and shares resources. Each tailors their approach to the unique needs of small- to medium-sized cities, neighborhoods, and rural communities, working hand-in-hand with local residents, government officials and business owners.
The national office assists with everything from national grant access to the nuts and bolts of daily operations. Indianapolis received a three-year grant to get started.
Sample projects of Groundwork Indy
In 2016, Groundwork Indy was awarded a National Creative Placemaking Grant for $200,000. The project, which started in January, will conclude in 2020. Called RECLAIM, it is directed by Groundwork Indy’s Executive Director Phyllis Boyd and Artist LaShawnda Crowe Storm. The project will use art to transform vacant spaces along an the unsafe, walking corridor into a safe pathway for elementary school children. The project will include a series of hands-on design, business and community development workshops.
There is already a lot of mapping data collected by the city about where brownfields and potential brownfields are located in the Northwest Area.
“If a site has suspected contamination, it is considered a brownfield because it impacts development potential. People that think it might be contaminated are like, ‘I don’t want to touch that property,’” said Boyd.
“So when you are dealing with brownfields, the idea is to get a handle on what is really happening on the site, if there really is contamination, how best to deal with it when you have an end use in mind, so what are the things that you need to do to prepare for either residential or commercial or light industrial use again.”
Young people have been involved in Phase 1, by researching historical uses of the property, concurrent uses on the property and by looking at records and maps to see if there was any activity that could potentially have been a source of contaminants.
“If the Phase 1 comes back and says, ‘Yeah, there’s a likelihood that there could be contaminants, then we do the Phase 2 which is the actual testing, physical testing of the soils. When that comes back, you kind of know what you are dealing with.”
Even before that research is done, it’s important to know what the end use is.
“So do we want that corner lot to become a park? Do we want it to become a mixed- use neighborhood serving food? Because the requirements then for cleanup are different depending on that end use is,” said Boyd.