Trees near Troost: Orchard a symbol of progress at a Midtown neighborhood

By Joe Lambe

Midtown’s small Center City neighborhood may not be well known, but it has done much to put itself on the map.

Most recently, that revolves around an orchard.

The city this month gave it a green award for work that included the orchard, food gardens and among the city’s first rain gardens.

Neighborhood President Eddie Tapper stood in that orchard this week and told its story.

It is at 3327 Forest Avenue, in a neighborhood that runs from Armour to Linwood, Troost to the Paseo.

The 110 fruit trees are tiny yet. They were just planted last year when baking summer heat killed even adult trees.

A plastic five-gallon bucket with holes in it is buried beneath each tree. Last summer, it took up to eight hours to fill all those buckets and keep those trees alive.

“Every day you’d look out and you’d see somebody watering the trees,” Tapper said.

“It became this regular force that drew neighbors we hadn’t seen in a long time out to start working in the community.”

When the trees start to bear fruit, it will go to those in the neighborhood with that left over given to charity, he said.

The trees were planted for free as part of a program by SkillsuUSA and Timberland that has planted many trees in the city.

“This orchard over its lifetime will produce hundreds of thousands of dollars in produce but the initial cost (to the companies) was probably under $1,500,” Tapper said.

The trees also fill vacant lots that sit between 16 new houses. Tapper, a former architect and now a developer, got them built after he moved to the area in 2002.

The trees signal a long-term commitment to place and probably add 25 percent to the value of the houses, he said.

All of the houses – four he developed and 12 Habitat for Humanity houses for which he managed construction – are built with universal design.

That means they have no steps and are designed so people with disabilities or anyone else can live in them. They are small, 1,300 square feet with three bedrooms.

They are just a part of $3.5 million in development work brought to the neighborhood in the last decade, Tapper said.

Much went to help older residents get home repairs and weatherproofing through loans and government programs, he said.

He also has a grant request in that would get everyone in the neighborhood free Internet access.

The nearby bus stations for the Troost Max bus have Internet fiber that could be tapped for free wifi just by putting antennas on them, he said.

In fact, he said, they could provide free wifi for businesses all along Troost and boost economic development.

Also, the city has demolished five dangerous houses in the neighborhood and Tapper’s development company is renovating two more.

New people are moving in, he said, including a couple that has put in chickens, ducks and gardens.

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