PHOENIX – When Becky Vining moved into her home near Grand and 15th avenues, she wasn’t looking for upscale accommodations. She just wanted a place where she and her husband could paint and play music without neighbors calling the police on them.
“Art matters,” Vining said. “Art is a major part of our lives. It helps us express our feelings and makes things more beautiful.”
Vining’s small community had not followed the revitalization trend surrounding her neighborhood, which sits about a mile from the thriving Phoenix arts and warehouse districts. The community’s local park, specifically, didn’t add much to the area.
“When we first moved in, it was literally a dirt lot with some metal play structure,” Vining said.
The park finally got an upgrade to grass and a modern play structure roughly five years ago, and residents started coming out.
Children now play soccer and football in the grassy areas when the evening cool settles in, and parents talk at the picnic tables a few feet away. On Monday nights, the community gathers for yoga at the park, led by local residents.
But residents still felt that there was something missing from that small lot.
“(The neighbors) started talking up ways that we could help the community,” Vining said. “Our first task was to clean up the park and the alley, and the second was to beautify the park by creating a mural that faces the park.”
With plan in hand, the community was ready to move forward, except they were still missing one key necessity: funds.
The money finally came in the form of a grant from the Love Your Block Phoenix mini-grant, which provides $1,000 to five communities a year to beautify the city – one block at a time. Previous projects include conducting alley cleanups, painting murals, building a butterfly garden and installing storefront planter boxes and Little Free Libraries, according to the city.
“No one knows more about their community than the community itself,” said Alyssa Hagerbrant, one of two Americorps VISTA members dedicated to supporting the city in the project. “This is a great way for communities to address the needs that they see and then make the change that they want to see happen.”
On top of providing money for revitalization projects, the program also connects the city to the communities in a way it hadn’t as much before, she said.
“We like to make sure that we are connecting the community leaders that are making a big impact on their community on a grassroots level to officials and people who are making bigger change in the city,” Hagerbrant said.
The city focuses its efforts on low-to-moderate income areas, and the program is accepting online applications now. The city will offer a grant writing workshops from 5:30-8 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the Broadway Heritage Neighborhood Resource Center, 2405 E. Broadway Road, and 4-7 p.m. on Nov. 8 at the Ocotillo Library, 102 W. Southern Ave.
As for Vining’s community, the Love Your Block project was only the beginning. She said residents plan to hold more cleanups and add a mural along the alleyway neighboring the park.
“We’re just kind of finding our way into becoming a group of people that want to do something to make the environment that they live in better,” Vining said. “When you beautify something, people don’t want to deface it. When something is old and dirty and unkempt, and people just ignore it, well then it’s a perfect target.”