Written by Zachary Churney, Economic and Community Development Liaison, MIBOR REALTOR® Association
The fundamental idea behind placemaking is that we build communities in which people want to live, work and thrive. These spaces become places where we make memories, engage with our neighbors and take pride in where we live. MIBOR REALTOR® Association believes that a home is not just a house, but also the community around it.
In late 2017, a REALTOR® from the near northeast side of downtown Indianapolis attended NAR’s National Conference in Chicago and learned about placemaking and how REALTORS® are being leaders in this initiative. It was there that Jenni Bliss first heard about NAR’s Placemaking Grant and how she could engage her local Association to pursue a grant.
Jenni had recently bought a home in the Monon 16 Neighborhood in Indianapolis, which had faced a great deal of blight and crime in past years. In buying her home, she decided to also purchase the empty lot next door with the vision to transform it into a space everyone could use: a community garden. As she sat at the REALTOR® Conference, she immediately realized how she could help make her dream and vision a reality.
The next step was to reach out to MIBOR REALTOR® Association and learn more about how MIBOR could apply for a grant. Jenni met with a couple staff members from the Association and quickly realized that she would need to establish a non-for-profit to help secure funds and assist in asset management. Although this would require her to go through the correct channels and spend time making sure everything was in place, she did it nonetheless. Her determination to bring this project into fruition was noticed not only by her Association, but by other REALTORS® and her community.
Once the grant was secured through NAR, all of the parts and pieces needed to come together. By working with other non-profit organizations, the Indianapolis Power and Light Company, and MIBOR, everything came together in July of 2018 for the Monon 16 Community Garden to begin. And it all started with MIBOR’s REALTOR® Volunteer Day. More than twenty REALTORS® came out to help plant trees, spread mulch, tend to the grow beds, build a tool shed and help set up an urban chicken coop so neighbors could purchase fresh eggs while also growing produce.
At one point during the day, an elderly woman from the neighborhood walked up to greet Jenni with her in-home care provider. She explained that she was a resident of the neighborhood for more than sixty years and rarely left her home. When she saw all the people planting trees and cleaning up the once vacant plot of land, she wanted to come and personally thank them for what they were doing in the neighborhood. After the neighbor walked back to her home, Jenni turned with a tear in her eye and said, “This is exactly why we do this. We are bringing people together and giving life back to this neighborhood.”
Now that the garden is completed, residents now rent grow beds for a very small fee and are able to have fresh produce. Some of the children in the neighborhood are even learning how to grow food—something they most likely have never done before. However, the garden is also a place for the whole community to enjoy as they can come visit and relax in the garden.
Although many view REALTORS® as being solely part of a home sale transaction, they are so much more than that. They are community leaders and voices that can help do precisely what Jenni Bliss, and the rest of her REALTORS® pals, are doing in the Monon 16 Neighborhood in Indianapolis.
None of this would have been possible, though, without the support and assistance of the National Association of REALTORS®. We are excited to continue working toward strengthening our communities through placemaking. We are looking forward to another project in 2019.
Holly Moskerintz is the Community Programs Outreach Manager for the National Association of REALTORS®. She works on NAR’s Housing Opportunity and Smart Growth Programs where she plans and manages community outreach programs, conducts outreach and marketing, and provides technical assistance to state and local Realtor® associations. Holly developed and manages NAR’s Placemaking Initiative.