Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

We get many Placemaking Micro-grant applications for community gardens.   We do consider community gardens to be a placemaking project assuming that they will be multi-functional gardens so that the whole community can have a place to gather and enjoy and not just a handful of gardeners.

While I have seen several ideas to make community gardens more open and inviting to others such as the addition of seating, walking paths, ponds, Zen gardens, pergolas, gazebos and more, I just recently came across a really creative idea – theatre in the garden.

Sherrine Azab and Jake Hooker moved to Detroit in 2012.  Together they founded “A Host of People,” a theater company that “invites audiences to be more at home with experimental art.” After visiting a few city-based community gardens, many located on once-vacant properties, Hooker and Azab realized that the stories and motivations behind the gardens were as diverse as the neighborhoods where they were located.

“That’s when we got the idea to stage productions here, to tell these stories,” says Azab. “We found this immediate kinship between gardening and art-making, this idea of creating something from nothing with the goal of nurturing your mind as well as your body.”

Their resulting theater project, “The Harrowing,” draws comparisons between the act of gardening and the act of art-making; between nourishing the community with fresh food and nourishing imaginations with new ways of telling stories.   It is a site-responsive theatre piece created to be performed in community gardens throughout Detroit and was conceived in response to the vibrant community garden movement that has become so strong in this city.

Sherry Hebron of the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm says “The Harrowing” is just another event in an already-busy summer at the city’s largest community garden. “It’s a great way to articulate what happens in a space like ours and connect it to the community it serves.”  “We intentionally designed this space for community events,” she says, noting the canning classes, African dance instruction and youth outreach programs.

The production will be performed free over five summer weekends in eight community gardens throughout the city. Music, dance, storytelling and audio and visual elements combine to paint a picture of each of the gardens in the past, present and future.  Audience members (limited to about 40, depending on the space) will move to various sites throughout the garden that is hosting the performance. Under set-decorated tents, they’ll be greeted by performers playing characters — everything from a befuddled historian to inanimate garden components.

The evening will be capped by an interactive vision of what the future holds for Detroit gardens and common spaces. Audience members will be encouraged to chime in here and during the post-show garden party that will follow each performance.

Sam Moltmaker also helps with the productions.  As she sees it, “The Harrowing” is about understanding and affecting the world around you. “I think it will inspire people to either look for things in their area that they may not have been plugged into,” she says. “It might also get them to start something themselves, inspired by these gardeners who went into these vacant lots of land and created something beautiful.”

So as you are planning your community garden, be sure to make sure it provides a welcoming place for the whole community to enjoy and who knows it may plant the seed to an Oscar winner.

(Photos courtesy of Spilt Sugar Photography and a Host of People.)


Community Outreach Programs

Housing Opportunity Grant
Housing Opportunity Grants support state and local REALTOR® Associations’ affordable housing activities. The goal of the program is to position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by creating affordable housing

Smart Growth Grant
Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement. The Smart Growth Program offers state and local REALTOR® Associations to way to engage with government officials, community partners and the general public in planning and designing community’s future.

Planned diversity initiatives makes good business sense. REALTOR® Associations with well-planned diversity programs create a stronger sense of community, particularly in neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreign-born and minority residents who are moving up the socioeconomic ladder and are buying homes.

NAR Placemaking Resources

Placemaking Guide: A Guide to Transform a Public Space into a Community Place
REALTORS® and state and local association staff can learn the details of Placemaking, the kinds of projects placemaking entails, how to organize them, and where to go for assistance and resources.

Placemaking Webinar Series
Our Placemaking Webinar Series will provide more in depth information on the various types of Placemaking and how REALTORS® were involved in Placemaking activities in their communities.

Placemaking Grant
The Placemaking Grant funds the creation of new public spaces, like pocket parks, trails & gardens, in a community. The grant focuses on “lighter, cheaper, quicker” placemaking projects, which can be built under a year and cost less  than $200,000.

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