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Turning Vacant Lots from Eyesore to Opportunity

Vacant lots in American cities consume vast amounts of land, which many are now recognizing as places of opportunity. Some cities and citizens are transforming once empty urban spaces into vibrant community-fostering places.
August 23, 2012, 8am PDT | Andrew Gorden
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Writing in The Nature of Cities, Timon McPhearson describes the state of America's vacant urban lots, and some of the remedies that both local governments and citizens alike are taking to reclaim unused space. "Vacant lands constitute a large fraction of urban land area. In fact, vacant land in U.S. cities of more than 100,000 people varies between 19 and 25% of total land area," he finds.

"I want to offer a challenging perspective," he says," which is that we begin viewing vacant lots as opportunities for land use transformations that can contribute to community development. Vacant land in cities could provide important social and ecological benefits, including habitat for biodiversity, provisioning of ecosystem services, and new green space for residents in underserved neighborhoods of the city."

The author, an Assistant Professor of Urban Ecology at The New School, delves into a few shining examples of places, such as the Baltimore Ecosystem Study and Brooklyn's that are leading the way in transforming vacant spaces into gardens, for both nutritional and social benefits.

"Frankly," argues McPhearson, "vacant land has been overlooked for far too long. If cities were to invest in the social-ecological transformation of vacant land into more useful forms, they would be creating the potential to increase the overall sustainability and resilience of the city."

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Published on Tuesday, August 21, 2012 in The Nature of Cities
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