Neighborhood Revitalization in Hey Arnold! Yes, the Cartoon!

In All, Ideas, Theories, & Stories, The Story, UDIN (All), Urban Inspiration by Teju Adisa-Farrar

Hey Arnold! was a great cartoon and had a lot of teaching moments; whether it was wisdom from Grandpa, advice from Arnold, or a tale as told by Gerald. It was a cartoon about the main character, Arnold, and his friends who are in 4th grade and live in New York City. There are many things I can write about the show that I liked and the lessons from each episode, instead I’d like to focus on one episode in particular, called “The Vacant Lot.”

In this particular episode, Arnold and his friends are playing baseball in the street (and keep getting interrupted by cars) because all other spaces to play in the neighborhood are either taken by other kids, like the fifth graders or someone else. One day Arnold and Gerald are passing by a vacant lot in their neighborhood and they both have a great idea. This is a lot they have passed before, but this time they see the vacant lot differently.

Arnold, Gerald, and their friends clean up this lot and call it Gerald Field. They cleaned up all the trash from the lot, mowed the grass and made into a beautiful place to play baseball and other sports. They saw an opportunity in an abandoned, devalued space that usually people pass and ignore. They worked together to create something of use to them, where they could play and hang out. The episode goes on, the adults in the neighborhood see this renewed lot and begin to see its value. As a result, the adults take over the lot and are arguing over who can use its space.

A wonderful moment then happens when the Arnold and his friends push over the dumpster, filled with all the trash they cleaned up, back onto the lot. They tell the adults that if they want to use the lot–they need to clean it up just like Arnold and his friends did. Finally, the adults realize they appropriated the public space the kids made for playing and fun. Essentially, the adults clean up the lot and give it back to Arnold and his friends as well as make it clear that everyone should use the space fairly. The episode ends with the kids and adults playing a game of baseball on Gerald Field, once again clean and beautiful.

This Hey Arnold! episode is a great example of community revitalization and people, in this case Arnold and his friends, being able to see the value in a space that has been devalued over the years. The only resources the kids needed to make this space beautiful was the time it took to clean it up. There was no money involved and no need to create a complex proposal. They simply had a need and found a solution in an under-used space in their community.

I like this episode because it shows the power of people working together to create something that solves a problem they have in their community, without any money. I also like that it reminds us how people don’t see the value in a space until it is beautiful. They don’t take the time to see the potential of a space while it is still deprived. By changing their perspective, Arnold and his friends were able to see the potential and transform the vacant lot.

I applaud the writers of Hey Arnold! for the whole show, and especially this episode that shows us how communities can work together towards small scale revitalization and beautification without financial resources.

You can watch the episode here.