Right in the middle of Fort Lauderdale’s historic Sistrunk neighborhood -where crime, drugs and violence used to rule a community — there’s a farm.
And not just any farm. The Northwest Gardens community has built inside of Sistrunk a farm large enough to feed vegetables to the estimated 1,500 people who live in its more than 600 low-income housing apartments.
Residents who live here can make a maximum of 60 percent of the area's median income. There are others living on only 30 percent of that median income.
Scott Strawbridge, director of development and facilities for the Housing Authority of Fort Lauderdale, is the brains behind the plan for more energy efficiency in Northwest Gardens.
Strawbridge says this farm in the middle of a food desert, where access to fresh and healthy food is severely limited, is just one of the things that makes Northwest Gardens a Gold level, LEED-certified neighborhood.
“Primarily, you’re going to be looking, of course, at the collective energy efficiency of the buildings, the use of the green space and site — specifically as to drainage, but also as to health and quality of life,” Strawbridge said.
LEED certification stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a designation that means this corner of low-income housing inside of the historically black neighborhood of Sistrunk has achieved an entirely new community outlook.
And, it’s only the second neighborhood in the U.S. to make it there. The first was a neighborhood in San Francisco.
Strawbridge says that, in a neighborhood like Northwest Gardens, this recognition makes residents proud. He called it the Wizard of Oz effect.
“That would be my best analogy, is yes, you do have something very special here,” Strawbridge said. “And it sometimes takes putting that heart or that badge or the diploma on someone to let them know that they have something special.”
People come out every Saturday to volunteer on the farm. But in addition to the vegetables, Northwest Gardens also has solar-powered street lights, collects rainwater and has an apprenticeship program for people to become certified in building management, a community center with a fitness room and an art house where kids can go after school for safe activities.
Nineteen-year-old Ruth Burotte is the youngest artist ever to be commissioned by Broward County for a cultural arts project. In addition to being Northwest Gardens’ new artist in residence, she’s also working on beautifying traffic signal boxes around unincorporated Broward.
One of the murals she did right by Northwest Gardens, at Dillard High School, is in a spot that is known by locals as “Death’s Corner." Burotte said the community asked her for a message that would promote more peace.
“It’s like a gun that’s kind of rusted and there’s like flowers growing out of it saying, like ‘stop the violence, stop it from the roots itself,’ ” Burotte said.
Burotte even painted a mural in a space Northwest Gardens uses for performances and community soup nights. It's called the Megaphone.
But it was Strawbridge who pushed for the housing authority to include more energy efficient development in the master plans for Northwest Gardens back in 2010. Now, the neighborhood is seven years ahead of where officials expected to be accomplished.
Strawbridge said he's even seen the number of crime incidents drop in the last month, because of the neighborhood improvements.
To celebrate the LEED certification success and how much Northwest Gardens has changed, Strawbridge is giving tours of the neighborhood this month to show the public what low-income housing can look like.
To sign up for tours, which are running Nov. 6,8,13 and 15, you can visit nwgtour.eventbrite.com or call 954-556-4100. Tours may be extended.
This story has been updated.