Thanks to the National Vacant Properties Campaign for another important conference on vacant properties - this time in Louisville. I was duly impressed with the first conference on the subject a year and a half ago but what struck me this time was the growing diversity of voices concerned with the issue.
At the last conference, I (and I assume many others) had the feeling that it was a therapy session of sorts for like-minded spirits. "Older industrial" cities were sharing information and ideas because, while all cities are unique, we share a lot of the same challenges.
This year's conference clearly demonstrated the problem of vacancy is not just for older industrial cities. Sure the usual suspects were in attendance but so too were Phoenix and other cities of the south and southwest typically known more for their growth than any kind of decline. The foreclosure crisis has brought more people to the table which makes for a richer and more varied discussion. The Campaign has long stated that vacancy is not "confined to urban and industrial areas" but a "national phenomenon." Seems this has sunken in.
I hope that the work of the Campaign will continue to reflect this new national awareness of the problem. The scale of the problem and the resources available to address it vary significantly from small town to big city. Maybe future conferences can facilitate sessions targeted to specific groups - big city forums, for instance, where places like Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles (eg.) can trade ideas. In a similar vein, suburban vacancy, whether due to age, over-construction or other factors, is a different animal yet relatively understudied (compared to the usual urban sort). Additional research and discussions targeted to these issues would help to market pragmatic and creative solutions already underway. Regardless of location, density or scale, what's clear is that as the nation's housing issues continue, these types of forums are more important than ever.