In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a former high school—currently vacant and covered in graffiti—will soon be transformed into an eco-village with housing, commercial and coworking space for young entrepreneurs, and food grown on-site. It’s the first development project from The Bridge, a startup that plans to build similar developments in under-resourced neighborhoods in other cities.
Harrisburg “is the epitome of systematic oppression,” says Garry Gilliam, an NFL veteran and Harrisburg native who cofounded The Bridge with childhood friend Corey Dupree. “I’ll call it how it is.” The city, which is the state capital, has a poverty rate of around 30%, far higher than the average in Pennsylvania. Its Black residents are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty than white residents.
“There’s a lack of access within the Harrisburg community,” says Dupree. That starts with basic access to healthy food. “There’s one grocery store within the city limits. You have your Dollar Generals and some of your smaller stores—the bodegas and the corner stores—but those aren’t providing the valuable nutrients that every adult and child should have access to.”
In the new development, an on-site indoor farm will use aeroponic systems to grow crops like greens vertically on walls without any soil, focusing on produce that isn’t available locally. “We’ll be working directly with local growers, be they big farms or small ones, to see what they’re producing seasonally as well as year-round, so we can fill in the gaps,” says Gilliam.
Sustainability is built into the design, with solar panels covering the roof, rain gardens and a rainwater collection system, and adaptive reuse of an existing building rather than using new resources to build from scratch. “The most sustainable thing you can do is to reuse an old building,” he says. The development will include around 50 apartments for a range of income levels, helping provide higher-quality housing in the area.
The project has approval from the City of Harrisburg, and the team is now finishing fundraising. The company also plans to expand into low-income neighborhoods in other cities, turning to other athletes and influencers of color to invest in and lead each project. “Those are our main investors, and we believe is extremely important to have them be the ones that are pushing this mission,” says Gilliam. “As young Black boys, we’re taught either you’re going to be an athlete, a rapper, or a drug dealer, those are the only three ways that you’re going to get out of the hood and break the poverty cycle. And we’re here to show that that’s not the case. That you can make way more millionaires in real estate business.”