United Housing, Inc. focuses on sustainable landscaping initiatives

Kody Kirby
Housing and Community Development Fellow

Master’s Candidate, Applied Anthropology
University of Memphis

Much of my time as a Housing and Community Development Fellow at United Housing, Inc. (UHI) has been centered on the development of their NeighborScape initiative. The initiative is focused on equipping UHI clients with knowledge of low-maintenance and low-cost, sustainable lawn-care and landscaping methods.   The key aspects of the program include the development of a demonstration garden at UHI’s office, as well as an optional add-on course to be offered to clients of our home-ownership education program. My role as an HCD Fellow continues to be the formation of the NeighborScape Advisory Committee (NAC; consisting of community members/clients, who will guide the goals of the project), serving as a point of contact and connection with our community partners (at the University of Memphis as well as various neighborhood associations and non-profit organizations), and facilitating the overall development of the initiative, providing logistical and organizational support.

The program was initiated after it was found that many UHI clients saw lawn-care and landscaping as key aspects to not only home-ownership, but to fostering a sense of community. For many of UHI’s clients one of the first and most apparent signs of blight were the resulting unkempt lawns and landscaping. As more and more houses fell into foreclosure, the very appearance of the neighborhood shifted, with banks failing to properly maintain the properties.

By implementing approaches which incorporate native plants in conjunction with water-conservation measures, the NeighborScape initiative hopes to empower clients to develop lawns and landscaping that are not only more environmentally sound, but result in lower overall maintenance and cost. The project hopes to foster a sense of pride in both home-ownership and community, providing clients with the means to raise their home values, whilst making neighborhoods safer (through Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) and more walkable. Whilst providing practical skills to clients (new home-owners), the additionally focuses on lawns as central in notions of community space and aesthetics.

As mentioned before, the construction of a demonstration garden is one of the key objectives of NeighborScape. The hope is that such a garden will serve as both a classroom and a showroom, providing a space in which to demonstrate lawn-care and landscaping methods. The designs for the garden where developed in collaboration with a University of Memphis Architecture class (taught by Professor Jenna Thompson), the final design will be decided upon by the NAC within the next month. Construction and planting of the garden will ideally occur in spring and summer of 2015.

The project additionally includes the development of a lawn-care and landscaping curriculum. We are currently in contact with community gardening organizations such as Grow Memphis for potential consulting. However, the overall content of the class has yet to be determined, as it will be modeled primarily around the decisions of the NAC.




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