By Karen Stokes
It’s a beautiful thing when a plan comes together.
The plan in reference is the City of Milwaukee’s Healing Spaces Initiative in the Harambee neighborhood.
Members of the community rallied neighbors to turn an underutilized parcel of land into a bright and beautiful community space for play, leisure and relaxation.
On a hot, sunny summer day on Saturday, Aug. 28, in the Harambee neighborhood on Milwaukee’s North Side, a group of volunteers donned in T-shirts were busy making sure the vacant lot on the corner of Locust and Richards Streets didn’t remain vacant.
Everyone was busy. Some were digging spaces that will soon be a place to erect sculptures for the sculpture garden, others were planting flower beds that will attract butterflies and college volunteers were painting vibrant colored mini libraries.
The Healing Spaces Initiative, coordinated through the Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation, helps residents build relaxing natural environments on available city-owned vacant lots while, at the same time, eliminating blighted spaces and engaging residents in the projects.
“It started with visioning sessions. We flyer-ed the neighborhood and invited people to come for an event for residents to decide what they wanted in this space,” Kacee Ochalek, City of Milwaukee Community Outreach Coordinator, said.
This particular project was envisioned by a Harambee resident and is the result of a robust community outreach effort to gain input from the neighborhood.
Cory Malchow has been living in the Harambee neighborhood for over 13 years.
“This land here was a condemned house,” Malchow said. “Nine years ago, the community was able to have the house torn down.”
Malchow said that after nine years nothing happened with the lot, the grass wasn’t mowed, it was still a nuisance.
“Last year, I fell upon the Healing Space and what they do. My idea was to create a sculpture garden. I presented it and it got approved,” Malchow said.
The idea for the sculpture garden is to collaborate with artists from other communities like Walkers Point, Riverwest, Mequon or Wauwatosa. Artists will create a sculpture and present it in the garden. The sculpture will attract people from other communities to come to Harambee.
“People from outside of Harambee will come over and see how beautiful this area is,” Malchow said. “We want people to come here to see how cool it is.”
The sculpture garden can help neighbors get to know each other. Residents can enjoy each other while relaxing on the benches, read a book from the little library and even borrow the checkerboard for some friendly competition between neighbors.
“We did it in the corner of Richards and Locust so people could see it,” Malchow said. “We’re also putting an ADA ramp in the rear so people in wheelchairs can come up here and we are going to have different events throughout the year.”
“Ald. Milele Coggs put a footnote in the budget to have some sort of healing space in the Harambee neighborhood so it was her idea along with Frank Cumberbatch from Bader Philanthropies,” Ochalek said.
Bader Philanthropies is helping fund the Healing Spaces Initiative with a $70,000 grant. Partners include Harambee residents, Eras Senior Network, Groundwork Milwaukee, Lowes Home Improvement, Safe & Sound, True Skool and other community-based organizations.
“There’s going to be 10 total Healing Spaces,” Ochalek said. “This year, we will be working on eight. They will all be different but they are different to each space according to what the residents wanted.”