As manufacturing has fled and population numbers have swooned, Rust Belt cities have been grappling for decades with how to deal with vacant lots, abandoned houses and shuttered businesses that become eyesores, repel investment and become magnets for crime.
The idea has even been floated in Detroit, to cite one example, that block upon block of empty houses should be torn down and the land turned back to use for farming.
In Washington, which thankfully does not have problems quite on Detroit’s scale, a plan was announced last week that will transform two vacant lots behind the George Washington hotel at East Wheeling Street and Shaefer Avenue into a miniature park that will have a pavilion, picnic tables, trees and street art created by local artists and students. The parkette, the first part of which is due to be finished by next June, is a collaboration among several parties, including the city, the Washington Community Arts and Cultural Center (WashArts), Southwest Training Services, Western Area Career and Technology Center, Highland Ridge Community Development Corp. and Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, which provided a $175,000 grant.
Among the Benedum Foundation’s many interests are public space being used more wisely and art being used to make streets more lively and engaging, and this project works on both fronts.
Public art can be a significant economic generator in downtown areas, Jim Denova, the foundation’s vice president, said last week. “Where people congregate, they create business, and it’s easier to do in a city like this. This could be a vital arts corridor for the community.”
A key to the parkette’s long-term success will, of course, hinge on it remaining a safe and inviting place for people to gather. It will require city police keeping a watchful eye, and, above all, residents and other users of the parkette treating it with respect. That means people cleaning up after themselves and not tossing their litter on the ground. And while it’s probably too much to hope there will be no vandalism, let’s hope it’s kept to a minimum.
This sort of partnership is praiseworthy and, we hope, can be replicated in other parts of Washington and in other communities in Washington and Greene counties.