It’s rooted in you: Reflecting on the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference

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Back in September, 1,100 change-makers from 37 states and 5 countries gathered in Baltimore, Maryland for the seventh Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference. Themed “In Service of People and Place,” the conference looked at how work to reclaim vacant properties can improve the wellbeing of residents and the places they call home.

As the dust has settled, I reflect back on what makes RVP so unique, so successful, and so inspiring. Some may argue that it’s the variety of sessions, the plenaries, the mobile workshops, the host city, the event space, or even the topics covered. While this is true, all of these things contribute to the success of the event, the underlying uniqueness, success, and inspiration is rooted in all of you!

The practitioners and policy makers that come to RVP to share their stories about the work that they do day-in and day-out to reclaim neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for residents. It’s the people in cities and towns across this great country that work to make comprehensive, equitable, and sustainable change in the places they call home.

It’s our youth, like the young panelists from New Lens, a youth-driven social justice organization that creates art and media about social issues where a youth perspective can inspire change. They opened the conference discussing their experiences growing up in Baltimore and challenged each of us to think about how to meaningfully engage young people in deciding the future of their communities. “Youth have minds too and they work really well!”

It is the more than 50 individuals from across the country who participated in the half-day service projects pulling weeds, hauling dirt, laying pathways, painting benches, and creating rain gardens to beautify four of Baltimore’s neighborhoods.

It’s the nearly 200 speakers that participated in the 60+ sessions focused on arts and culture, land banking, policy reforms and more, who shared their stories not only to showcase what they are doing, but to educate others in the field about what is working and what is not – to highlight the successes and the challenges.

It’s researchers and authors like Matthew Desmond who brought to light the crisis related to rental housing.

It’s our elected officials like Congressman Kildee, Mayor Weaver, Mayor Mayo, Mayor Barrett, Mayor Taylor, who have a vision for the future of their communities and work hard to lead the way and serve their constituents.

It’s the sponsors and funders who support not only RVP, but the work that takes place in all our communities. Without their support, much of the work that we do would not get done.

It is every single participant who takes the time out of his or her busy schedule to spend three days with others in the field, to learn about how to strengthen the places they work, to understand the challenges that exist, and to spend time with others who work on these same daily issues and face the same daily challenges.

It is all of the other people in this field that are not able to attend RVP, yet continue to work hard to address the challenges in their communities; who continue to build the momentum for this work.

We so often get stuck in our day-to-day, sitting answering emails about why the neighbor’s lot isn’t mowed, or why the house across the street has not been torn down yet. We get caught up in the politics about funding work in one neighborhood versus another, or working through the daunting task of state and federal grant reporting. We get frustrated, we get burned out, and sometimes we want to quit.

RVP is an opportunity for all of us, all the people in this field, to come together, to learn from each other, to get reinvigorated about the work that we do, and to see that we are not alone.

Thank YOU for your work and your passion, which are what makes RVP so unique, so successful, and so inspiring year after year.