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ST. LOUIS - It's a unique plan aimed at taking back the city's vacant lots and it all has to do with a little plant.

Currently, there are 20,000 parcels of vacant land across the city, according to Washington University sustainability director Phil Valko. He calls all of the unused land a "drain" on community vitality.

"When there's vacancy, it means that people used to live there and they're no longer there," he said.

But, he believes a plot of land along Delmar Boulevard in the Central West End could possibly serve as a model for what St. Louis can do to fix the problem.

"As we look at 20,000 vacant parcels in the city, we got to the point where it's hard not to see a great, great opportunity," he said.

In 2012, Washington University partnered with the City of St. Louis to create the Land Lab competition of 2012. In that competition, organizers picked five sustainability projects they believed could solve the city's vacancy problem.

One of those ideas were the Sunflower+Project.

Planting Benefits
The lot in the 5100 block of Delmar is one of two vacant lots in the city where sunflowers dot the landscape. The other is located in Old North St. Louis. Richard Reilly and Don Koster go the idea to start project. They both wanted to show St. Louisans the potential a vacant lot can have.

"Something like the Sunflower Project can help bring attention to vacant land," said Reilly.

Reilly believes a number of things could possibly happen by sprucing up vacant lots across the city.

LINK:Sustainable Land Lab - "Sunflower+Project"

He said prospective buyers may be more encouraged to redevelop vacant land. Reilly added the city could also cut down on its greenhouse gas emissions, and save taxpayer money, because it wouldn't need to use as many lawnmowers to keep weeds at bay.

"It might have the potential to lower budgets for vacant land maintenance," said Reilly.

Bringing Together the Community
But, Reilly believes the biggest benefit of the project could be its ability to bring together the community.

Alderwoman Lyda Krewson recruited over 70 volunteers to plant 15,000 sunflower seeds at Delmar site in May. Reilly said the volunteer projects like Sunflower+ gets neighbors involved.

"The community engagement aspect is one of the most important things to come out of it," he said.

EVENT INFO: "Three sites for Sunflowers" discussion

The Sunflower+ project is still in its early stages. Reilly said he and others will continue to study the affordability and practicality of this plan going into the next year to see if it's something they can spread to the entirety of St. Louis.

For the colder months ahead, organizers plan to plant winter wheat in place of the sunflowers.
If you would like to learn more about Sunflower+, there will be an event further detailing Saturday. It will begin at the Contemporary Art Museum and then head to the two sunflower sites.

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