New Urban Garden Concept Project Underway

By Alex Arey
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE


Kevin Hamak, landscape architect, is spearheading an urban garden concept project to improve a commercial block in the Durham community on Angier Dr. The idea is to demonstrate for at least a month what the area could look like after Build-a-Better Block‘s revitalization with an urban garden.

Landscape architect, Kevin Hamak, looks on while discussing his plans for Build-a-Better Block’s Urban Garden Concept Project.

“Anyone can garden. You don’t need a lot of space,” Hamak said.

As a landscape architect, Hamak once spent many years educating himself about ordinances to create “walkable” mixed use communities. Coming from a small town in the Midwest multi-modal transportation was all he knew. This explains why he felt so compelled to promote them. In order for an ordinance to get passed or be amended, it is beneficial to know what the ordinances are and how they got that way, Hamak said.

“Currently, my main focus is on agriculture in the city. I believe locally grown and sold food is important because it’s more nutritional, affordable and sustainable,” he said. Produce grown in the city is natural and has no chemicals, preservatives or additives, he explained. It’s also much more cost efficient because there are no shipping fees. Hamak actively promotes gardening and how easily it is for individuals to maintain their own gardens.

Build-a-Better Block is a national organization that reinvigorates former commercial centers that have since deteriorated and been underutilized with the emergence of strip malls and suburban sprawl, Hamak said. Established in 2010, Build-a-Better Block provides guidance in communal redevelopment to those who seek their services. They also offer tools that enable mixed-use transportation while stimulating the community economically, Hamak said.

In this case, Wanona Satcher, an economic development financing professional and member of Durham Area Designers with Hamak, contacted Build-a-Better Block to improve accessibility and mobility in Durham. After reaching out to Better Block and receiving guidance, the community can look to other projects they have done to use as an example for inspiration, Hamak explained.

At present, the district undergoing transformation has several vacant buildings, which were centers of retail activity. For at least a month, Hamak and his volunteers want to showcase the area’s potential after rejuvenation, to give them an impermanent but full picture. As a part of that, they will put in temporary street trees, ornamental planters, and urban gardens behind the buildings.

“Build-a-Better Block’s main goal is for it to become a permanent fixture, and in order to do so they must assemble quickly to show what it could look like to future entrepreneurs who are looking for a place to move their business,” Hamak said. Past Better Block temporary projects that have resulted in success serve as reference points to give people an idea of how successful their businesses could be there.

‘The Urban Garden Concept Project primarily receives donations from businesses immediately surrounding the community and metal sculptors, among many other franchises and people who were willing to help out,” Hamak said. Adorning the streets will be temporary trees in pots, flowers, benches and temporary lights to show what the vibrant streetscape could look like in the commercial center.

The responsibility of maintenance depends on whether it is a community or commercial garden. Hamak’s focus is to set it up as a business. Currently there is an ordinance that prohibits commercial gardens from being within city limits. Hamak is motivated to write an ordinance to allow commercial gardens, if that is what it ultimately becomes. Assuming it gets passed, Kevin said with cool assurance, “It’ll get passed.”

Essentially, Hamak wants this to be educational– anyone can garden anywhere there is sunlight, he said. His focus, in addition to commercial gardening in the city, is to help individuals in the community learn more about being able to garden their own property.

Build-a-Better Block Day, the day they put the temporary garden in place, will be Oct. 27.