Culture News

Why PHX Renews Community Garden Is Closing in Midtown Phoenix

PHX Renews, a 15-acre urban community garden and project site off Central Avenue and Indian School Road, will close abruptly this month, New Times has learned. The land, a former vacant lot turned collaborative space, has been transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Community gardeners are being asked to have their plots cleared by Friday, February 10, and the entire site is to be vacated by Wednesday, February 15. It is unclear what will become of the acreage, which sits along the northeast side of the intersection, bordering Steele Indian School Park.

Volunteer gardeners learned of the closure late Thursday, February 2, through an e-mail sent out by Tom Waldeck, president and CEO of Keep Phoenix Beautiful, a local nonprofit that bridges residents with beautification projects and hosts environmentally conscious workshops and events.

"The status of our beloved PHX Renews site is in transition," Waldeck wrote in the notice, which was obtained by New Times early Friday morning. "We are working to provide an alternative space for potential community garden plots near 16th Avenue and Camelback [Road]."

The e-mail also notes that "this space has always been designated for temporary use."

PHX Renews began as part of a city-led initiative heralded by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton to transform the city's vacant dirt lots into vibrant community spaces. The city joined with Keep Phoenix Beautiful in 2011 for the transformation project, which broke ground in 2012 and received local and national attention for its revitalization efforts.

In addition to small-scale, personal gardens, PHX Renews has been home to hands-on how-tos and full-scale fundraisers in partnership with organizations like Native Health, One n Ten, and PetSmart. In 2012, PHX Renews began working with the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit, refugee resettlement agency, to create farming programs for refugees from Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The blossoming land hosted President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton for the Clinton Foundation's Ninth Annual Day of Action in March 2014, which brought more than 650 students to the site for a number of volunteer projects.

The 15-acre lot was originally home to the Phoenix Indian School and was owned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Bureau then traded it with Barron Collier Companies, a Florida-based developer. Barron Collier later allowed the City of Phoenix to harvest the land in exchange for a plot in downtown Phoenix, according to a New York Times article.

New Times has reached out to the City of Phoenix and U.S. Department of the Interior for comment. We'll update this story as more information becomes available.
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Janessa is a native Phoenician. She joined New Times as a contributor in 2013. You can connect with her on social media at @janessahilliard, and she promises you'll find no pictures of cats on her Instagram — but plenty of cocktails.
Contact: Janessa Hilliard