Like many of you, I envision a future in which entrenched blight and vacancy in our communities is no more than a bad memory. While we work on the long term, however, communities also need near-term options to keep their residents safe and prevent decline.
Lately, several organizations have come to my attention that are developing smart fixes. They’re focusing on what can be one of the surest signs of vacancy and a magnet for crime: broken or boarded-up windows and doors.
All across the country, communities are realizing that a vacant home does not have to look vacant.
A Chicago-based nonprofit, the Neighborhood Foundation of America, is hiring artists to paint fake facades and other decorative designs, from Western vistas to jazz scenes, on vacant properties. They even started a “board-up in a box” program to spark creative board-up programs in new communities around the country.
And cities ranging from Milwaukee to Baltimore are finding that artists can use vacant properties to bring new vitality to neighborhoods and call attention to the challenges they face. South Bend, Indiana is working to enlist over 1,000 volunteers to paint windows and doors on the plywood of as many as 500 vacant houses. The small town of Henderson, West Virginia, hosted a holiday-themed window-decorating contest for vacant buildings in their downtown.
One company, SecureView, is looking “to eliminate plywood, period.” Based in Cleveland, SecureView makes a clear plastic material that looks like glass, but is more durable than wood. Once their Window Covers are installed, the properties are more attractive than their plywood-covered counterparts and provide greater security, protecting neighborhoods from break-ins and squatters.
Home Illusions, a Flint-based company, prints life-sized decals of doors and windows, and then pastes them over plywood to create the illusion of occupancy. Customers can choose from over 15 varieties, from the simple glass block window to more intricate “stained glass” windows.
Creative board-ups are just an interim fix, but more and more communities are beginning to look at vacant properties as potential canvasses. Board-ups are no longer just an eyesore, with a little bit of effort, they can be a reflection of the safe, vibrant, beautiful community a neighborhood is aspiring to be.
If creative blight-fighting work is underway in your community, you can share it on the Vacant and Problem Properties Innovators LinkedIn group. Or send us a tweet at @CProgressNews. We’d love to see your work.