Flower Power

Written by Susie Steckner Category: Valley News Issue: November 2011
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The lot will be awash not only with color but opportunity. Students at the nearby Phoenix Union Bioscience High School are eager to transform the sunflowers – and the naturals oils locked inside the plants – into biodiesel fuel. Meanwhile, neighborhood leaders in the Roosevelt Row Arts District see the sunflower initiative as a win-win solution to the area’s chief eyesore.        

Artist Kenny Barrett can’t think of a better way to breathe new life into the dirt patch than with rows of sunflowers towering four or five feet high. “There’s something magical about them. People love them,’’ says Barrett, project director for the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation (CDC), which launched the sunflower effort. “We are hoping that this will inspire other ideas and more creativity.’’

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The vacant lot, located between Fifth and Sixth streets and Garfield and McKinley streets, sits in the shadow of Downtown and is bordered by the high school and bungalows. The CDC leased the lot from the city at no cost and sowed seeds in September. Barrett expected to see blooms in late November or December; a second planting is scheduled in February. The project has received partial funding from Intel.

The adjacent Bioscience High School, a full-time public school in the Phoenix Union High School District, is in its third year of developing a biofuel/solar vehicle. When the sunflowers are ready for harvest, students will press the seeds and use the oil to produce alternative fuel. The neighborhood partnership is a perfect fit for students, says principal Deedee Falls. “We are all about learning outside the walls of the school,’’ she says.

The sunflower project is part of a larger program called A.R.T.S. –  for “adaptive reuse of temporary space” – by the Roosevelt Row CDC. Neighborhood leaders envision vacant lots dotted with markets, community gardens, public art projects and more. The first transformation came earlier this year with the A.R.T.S. Market, an artist-culinary-crafter market at Roosevelt and Fourth streets that’s open on first and third Fridays.

In the down economy, the A.R.T.S. program is a logical answer to empty lots, says Cindy Dach, the CDC’s acting director. “We’re hopeful for housing and retail, but until then we need temporary activation and beautification to support the communities that are already here.”