So a few weeks ago, there in my neighborhood I got to watch a house literally torn asunder with an excavator. It was a pretty crazy event to watch from my front window. A company named Indiana Recovery Services plopped some equipment down in literally a matter of a day, and then in around a little over a week they had ripped the house down, torn the septic system up, and laid flat to the entire lot.
It was something to watch really, on how efficient we can be when it comes to destruction. Being the curious one I am though, I was super inquisitive on how this lot came to be and what was going to become of it given it sat on the corner of my street and had some pretty wide open green space available.
If you read beyond the orange squiggle here, maybe I can regale you on how this suburbanite is reclaiming space where one can find it.
So once they were done and the excavator was gone, the lot was left empty. Literally empty, they had even torn up the well spout and laid top soil down with grass seed.
This lot that I am speaking of was owned by a woman of late age, her husband past long ago. Those of us in the neighborhood interested in keeping our little burb looking good, had looked after her property as she slowly became a shut in. We took turns mowing the lot, taking turns weeding, and the occasional trim. So it was really no surprise that many of us in the area we were curious as to what might have happened when we saw the excavator show up.
Turns out she had finally passed, gone to where one might believe. However she had no next of kin and the house had went to an estate auction. This lot however was unique though.
In our neighborhood, there runs directly through it a high tension electrical system. The plots are strategically placed around it because our local power company, Indiana Michigan Power, legally owns a 75 foot egress space around said wire. However this particular lot was well within said 75 foot space as it had been built well before said towers went up, or the egress law had went into effect.
I feel bad nagging on the public sector because I used to work for it, but I wanted to find out who might own this open land and see if it could be used for some type of community garden space, or even maybe a playground of sorts. Or heck, as much space as the lot provides a garden and even a baseball diamond slash football field. My catty corner neighbor across the street even joked to me that if we could flatten the space a little that it would make a nice practice spot. Not my choice, but hey community spaces are for the community right?
Anyway, once the house was cleared I had started to make calls. My first stop was the county assessor. They had no idea and directed me to the code enforcement department. Code enforcement said that technically because there are utility lines in the area that it is not under their jurisdiction and directed me to the Right of Way area of the County Highway department. Once I got to them however, I had reached a dead end. They had no answer for me for who actually owned this lot now.
As much as I am a pusher of public service...living in a red state sometimes you just reach wits end. I called my mother in law who works for a realtor, and asked her to please just find me who owns this lot so I can call them and ask if we can get some plants in the ground. Planting season was getting at the end in our area here.
She finally found out for me that it was indeed our local utility that had purchased it, and for the exact reason I laid out earlier. They would rather not have to deal with structures, trees, etc... if they can avoid it.. when it comes to their high tension wires.
So I looked up the community relations department for our local utility, locally here called AEP but technically Indiana Michigan Power, and found a number. The gentleman I reached was incredibly helpful but could not give me an answer for a yay or nay on using the space. However he did say that they do these things all the time and put me in touch with the guy who handles it.
I swear lawyers don't run the world, they just make sure those who do can be sued if things go south.
In any event, the man I spoke to in the property slash legal department told me that the space can be made available to use for community use...so long as no permanent structures were in place. I also talked with my home owners insurance, and they reinforced to me that there are limits and liability points, but it would never go beyond my deductible and would extend to the free lease agreement that the utility company was offering.
In short, I was able to free lease this lot from our utility company for community use.
So last weekend, I dragged the neighborhood kids over and planted a lot of seeds after clearing and tilling some space. Some amenities were tilled in, mostly left over fish whatnots thrown away from the local Asian market place, but all in all I really had no expectations that any of the seed would take given we were so late in the planting season.
The kids had fun however, they enjoyed the ride in our local HillBilly Sled (truck bed liner reinforced with lumber towed behind a tractor). They also had a heck of a time watering the seeds initially as we had to drag water to the site using said HillBilly Sled. Needless to say, it was mostly the kids getting dirty and wet along the project, and really that was the fun part. Watching the kids getting involved, trying to the get the right amount of soil over a seed, watching them accidentally over water, and really ultimately...maybe getting an appreciation of the land that gives them life.
In any event, I had no hopes and aspirations that anything we planted would come up. Even with the cool spring, we honestly here in Northern Indiana were at our last possible planting window. However just this evening, I decided to take a walk and see if we had any sprouts and wouldn't you know it...just about everything we seeded has come up. Everything from watermelon to carrots, to onions, to heck.... We planted probably a half pound of seed across this half acre lot and damn near everything is coming up. So I've asked the neighbors in the area to start saving their grass clippings, as I think I'm going to start composting and mulching to try and start teaching the local kids about the cycle of nutrients for plants.
I'm getting long winded at the moment, the point is that I would encourage you to own your spaces, and evidence by my experience technically you don't even have to legally own them to 'own' them. Get out there and research, see what you can use and grab the moment.
If the crop comes in the way it looks so far based on the sprouts, honestly it looks like the local kids and I will be donating a sizable chunk to our local foodbank and homeless shelter.
Maybe, if everyone looked at the spaces they owned, and even they don't own. And just started asking questions of use, of what they can do by, things that they can use in their community, things that can be shared. Maybe just maybe we could start to use this little blue mote in the cosmos just a little better. And just maybe we could pass that importance to the following generation so they can continue on.
6:59 AM PT: Wow, didn't expect a spotlight and given that I wrote this last night didn't even think to take pictures.
Have to take the daughter out and about for some errands and then pick up the son from the in laws. Once I get back, I'll get them outside and over there and take some pics then update.
You're going to laugh at how random the kids planted some of the seeds!
Updated with Images!
The lot from my front porch