Featured Resources: Vacant Land

A Philadelphia Green Guide


Produced by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society – Philadelphia Green

This manual is intended as a technical resource for community-based organizations, city agencies, and landscape professionals who are addressing vacant land issues in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. The manual describes the clean & green approach, which is designed to maintain or “stabilize” vacant lots, preventing further deterioration until future uses for the land can be found. This process involves a thorough cleanup and removal of debris, basic landscape improvements such as planting grass and trees, installation of barriers to prevent illegal dumping, and ongoing maintenance. It will serve as a reference to those who are planning lot stabilization projects and as a complement to training programs

Transforming Liabilities into Assets, Conference Program


Conference Steering Committee includes Philadelphia Green, City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania

This conference was dedicated to discussing vacant land and providing an in-depth look at both the challenges and opportunities associated with its management and future development. This program includes a conference schedule, biographies of invited speakers, and lists of exhibitors and participants.

Pagano, Michael A. and Ann O’M Nowman. Brookings Institution Survey Series, Center on Urban & Metropolitan Policy. December 2000.

Available online at: http://www.brook.edu/dybdocroot/es/urban/pagano/paganofinal.pdf

A recent survey on vacant land and abandoned structures in seventy cities found that 15% of a city’s land was vacant; cities in the South tended to have the most vacant land while cities in the Northeast the least; cities in the Sunbelt reported high levels of vacant land; cities with low proportions of vacant land tended to have high numbers of abandoned structures.

Converting Vacant Land into Valuable Development

Hughes, Mark Alan. Brookings Review. 2000, 18:3.

Available at: http://www.brook.edu/press/review/summer2000/hughes.htm

Philadelphia is a powerful illustration of the concerns surrounding blight, vacant land, abandoned buildings, and brownfields. Like all the nation’s older cities, it has suffered major population loss. Like them, it has been slow in coming to grips with the problem of depopulation. But in the past five years the tide may have been turning. Philadelphia may now have the opportunity to lead the way in what the author calls “civic speculation.” Guided by a strategic vision of a ‘right-sized’ city for its current population, civic leaders could leverage abandoned and vacant land and change the subject from decline through abandonment to growth through consolidation.

Bowman Ann O’M. Urban Affairs Review. 2000, 35:559

City governments own or regulate vacant land and abandoned structures. In this article, the authors summarize new vacant-land survey data, examine the conditions and causes of vacant land, analyze city policy toward vacant land, and explore the possible interconnections among conditions, causes, and policies. They find that vacant land most often is associated with cities that have expanded their political boundaries, and the number of abandoned structures is related to a city’s change in population. Thus vacant land and abandoned structures are not interchangeable indicators of decay and destruction; rather, they have separate causes and need different policies.

Accordino, John and Gary T. Johnson. Journal of Urban Affairs. 2000, 22:301.

Discusses the nature of vacant and abandoned property and the city efforts to address it. Barrier to the revitalization of central cities; survey of the populous central cities in the United States; Effect on community life including housing and neighborhood vitality, crime prevention and commercial district vitality; Problems from single- and multi-family housing, retail properties, and vacant land.

A Pilot Program for Eastern North Philadelphia

October 1999

Prepared by Fairmount Ventures, Inc. for The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Philadelphia Green

This is the third of several reports published from the Vacant Land Management Study conducted in the late 1990s in Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. This report presents a plan for the comprehensive management of all vacant land within the Eastern north Philadelphia target area. The purpose of this initiative is to create a pilot program to illustrate the potential for broader vacant land management reform. Although this pilot has been developed to work within the existing system, the City will not realize the full potential benefits of vacant land management in the absence of systemic reform.

An Evaluation of the New Kensington Neighborhood Open Space

October 1999

Management Project, Executive Summary

Prepared by Fairmount Ventures, Inc. for The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Philadelphia Green

This is the second of several reports published from the Vacant Land Management Study conducted in the late 1990s in Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. This report examines the effectiveness and impact of a pilot program that has taken management of vacant land to the community level in a particular neighborhood. It highlights issues that PHS and its community-based organization partner encountered in setting up and operating a comprehensive program. As such, it offers lessons others can use in designing their own programs.

Cost Benefit Analysis

October 1999

Prepared by Fairmount Ventures, Inc. for The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Philadelphia Green

This is the first of several reports published from the Vacant Land Management Study conducted in the late 1990s in Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The goal of the study was to adopt a realistic, cost-effective system through which all vacant land is maintained until an appropriate long-term use for each parcel is found. This reports establishes the financial rationale for considering alternative approaches to vacant land management by demonstrating how the City can generate $1.54 for ever $1.00 invested over time. This ratio reflects only those benefits to be gained from a ‘baseline’ treatment and does not include the benefits that could be gained through longer term reuse strategies that allow for the redevelopment of vacant land.

International Wildlife. 1999. 29:8.

Looks at the urban revitalization project launched by National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Natural Resource Center to convert some of the vacant lots and abandoned industrial sites into green spaces in Detroit, Michigan.

Public Management. 1999, 81:39

Presents the survey on causes of changes in the supply of vacant land in cities of the United States. Lists cities with increased amount of vacant properties and cities in which the amount of vacant land has decreased.

Nation’s Cities Weekly. 1998. 21:9

Reports that the city of Providence in Rhode Island is selling vacant lots for one dollar each to homeowners and neighborhood groups interested in taking title to the city’s abandoned properties.

A Guide for Community-Based Organizations

Prepared by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council

The purpose of this handbook is to provide community-based organizations with the knowledge to initiate the process of reusing environmentally contaminated vacant land. The first section highlights some significant barriers to the reuse of vacant land. The second section explains the basics of environmental laws affecting contaminated land. The third section describes an approach to preliminary research that must be done before starting the process of reusing contaminated or potentially contaminated land.

A Reinvestment Strategy

August 1996

Prepared by the City of Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development, John Kromer, Director

This paper explains the significance of housing abandonment as a community development issue for Philadelphia neighborhoods. It describes a combination of vacant property prevention and treatment activities organized by the Office of Housing and Community Development as the basis for a broad neighborhood reinvestment strategy.

American Nurseryman. 1995. 182:12.

Reports on New York City’s “City Spaces” program which aims to transform vacant lots into temporary parks.

Issues and Recommendations

September 1995

Produced by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Jane G. Pepper, President

This study consists of two sections. The first section, “Toward a New Way of Thinking About Urban Vacant Land,” surveys the programs and policies of governments, non-profit agencies, and neighborhood-based organizations across the country. Section one proposes a set of recommendations to municipal decision-makers on future policies regarding urban vacant land. The second section, “Toward a New Way of Thinking about Urban Vacant Land in Philadelphia,” reviews Philadelphia’s modern community greening history and presents a set of policy recommendations for city government and private stakeholders in the city.

Hoffman, Mark C. , The Urban Center. 1990. Urban Center Research Report.

Previous research of the Housing Policy Research Program suggests that policies and programs to stabilize Cleveland’s residential base need to be implemented soon. To achieve stabilization requires the systematic reuse of vacant land and the retarding of housing abandonment, which is now affecting most of Cleveland’s neighborhoods.


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