Located less than 2 miles from the University's campus, Twin Towers is a community where 63 percent of the children live below the poverty level, more than double the statewide average. The neighborhood's population boomed during World War II, but that all changed in 1962 with the construction of U.S. Route 35 through Dayton, which forced thousands of Twin Towers families to relocate and many of its businesses and industries to close.

"The University of Dayton really stresses being part of your community [...] I think a lot of people embrace that idea and want to come out and help."

But today, citizens are reclaiming their neighborhood. And a partnership among the University of Dayton, East End Community Services and Mission of Mary Cooperative is working to transform the former Lincoln Elementary School site into an urban farm and greenspace.

Dubbed Lincoln Hill Gardens, the 5-acre site is the first high-profile project for the University's Hanley Sustainability Institute. Established in 2014 with a $12.5 million gift from the George and Amanda Hanley Foundation, the institute aims to extend the University’s sustainability efforts across campus and into the Dayton community.

In addition to urban food production, Lincoln Hill Gardens will allow students to work on projects that meet both learning goals and community needs, said Kelly Bohrer '96, '01, director of community-engaged learning in the University’s Fitz Center for Leadership in Community.

For example, students in Bohrer's sustainability research classes designed possible site elements, including aquaponics and composting facilities, that were presented to MKSK, the chosen architecture and design firm. In addition, students in associate professor Suki Kwon’s art and design course worked with Niels Braam, MKSK’s environmental graphic designer, to develop branding and signage proposals. Recently, a group of students installed sensors to monitor garden temperatures to ensure optimal growing conditions.

After a year, Lincoln Hill Gardens has produced nearly 2 tons of food for 80 families, plus more to be sold at local markets. The proceeds go toward developing Lincoln Hill Garden, according to Stephen Mackell, urban farm manager at Mission of Mary Cooperative.

"Through the 2017 growing season, families are getting 10-15 pounds of vegetables a week, plus they are getting in the habit of cooking and eating fresh food all of the time," Mackell said. "We expect to have another 20,000 pounds combined from the spring and summer growing seasons."

But it's not just about the food. The gardens allow families to spend quality time together and for neighbors to get to know one another. The property will also be a natural playground, according to Abby Lisjak, the Hanley Sustainability Institute intern for the Lincoln Hill Garden project.

"I've been learning the importance of nature for childhood development and the benefits of a playscape that's different than a traditional playground," said Lisjak, a mechanical engineering major with a minor in human rights. "This is a great fit with my passions and confirmation I want to work in this area. I've always really liked the science, math and process of engineering, but I've sought ways to use engineering to make a difference, to use human rights as a guide to apply engineering."