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What can 650 college students, 100 veterans, and 150 community leaders accomplish in just three hours? They can turn a vacant lot into a neighborhood educational venue.

In March, former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton brought together students from across the country and around the world to Arizona State University to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), a series of workshops focused on addressing global issues and taking steps to solve problems with innovative solutions. The three day conference culminated in a “Day of Action” at PHX Renews, Mayor Greg Stanton’s vacant lot initiative.

PHX Renews, a 15-acre vacant lot adjacent to Indian School Park, has been vacant since the Phoenix Indian School was closed and demolished the 1990’s. The property was loaned to the city of Phoenix as a demonstration site to show ways to temporarily improve neighborhoods and prevent blight until vacant lots are developed. Keep Phoenix Beautiful, working with more than a dozen partners, developed a site plan with community gardens, Xeriscape demonstration areas, micro-farms and educational zones to be used by the public, schools and community organizations.

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CGI U participants arrived early on a Sunday morning in March ready to work. Opening the day with words of encouragement and appreciation were Mayor Stanton, President Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton and were joined by Rep. Gabby Giffords and former astronaut Mark Kelly. Many of the projects included building structures to improve the site for public use, such as garden plots, shade structures, picnic tables and benches. Landscape installation at the ASU/UNM SHADE solar home was another activity and included planting several new Sparky Yellow Bells (Tecoma x Sparky) developed by V & P Nurseries. Students also helped develop gardens for Native Health (Phoenix) , one n ten youth organization and Madison Street Veterans Association.

The ‘star’ project of the day was creating the PHX RENEWS Litter Letter sign. Women engineering students from Xavier College Preparatory created the sculpture by welding rebar into letters. CGI U students wrapped the 6-foot high letters in chicken wire, encasing plastic recycled materials, each of a different color. Look for the colorful sign, which will be mounted to the Indian School Road fence bordering the south end of the site. At the end of the day, students grabbed their lunches and returned to ASU, proud and happy that they had contributed to improving the community for Phoenix area residents.

PHX Renews is open to the public seven days a week during sunlight hours.  Schools and community organizations can request tours and demonstrations through Keep Phoenix Beautiful, (602) 534-3334 or keepphxbeautiful.org

Mary Lu Nunley is a water conservation coordinator with the city of Phoenix, AZ, one of fifteen Water – Use It Wisely partners to offer water-saving advice and programs.

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