By Tyler Falk
Posting in Cities
Cleveland and Miami are littered with unproductive vacant lots, but one group thinks that turning them into parks could rejuvenate the cities.
Every city is littered with vacant lots, some cities more than others. Either way, they're a bane to any city. But what should cities do with these toxic properties? One group believes parks are the answer.
The Redfields to Greenfields project -- redfield meaning a property that is in the red -- studies the impact of turning unproductive properties into green space, like parks, in 12 U.S. cities. They have already studied the benefits in Atlanta, Cleveland, Miami, Denver, Philadelphia, and Wilmington, Del. And the results are overwhelmingly positive.
Take Cleveland, for example. Since 1950 the population has declined by 50 percent. This population loss along with the real estate bust has contributed to the 20,000 vacant lots which are scattered throughout the city. Redfields to Greenfields estimates that a $2 billion investment by the city would remove 1,850 acres of vacant real estate and produce 120 miles of interconnected greenways. It's the kind of development that would revitalize communities and attract young professionals.
In the Washington Post, Michael G. Messner, Wall Street investment fund manager and a funder of Redfields to Greenfields, explains the goal of the project:
Under this plan, some of the abandoned or underutilized property would be acquired by a parks agency or by public-private partnerships, which would then begin demolition, park design and construction, putting people to work immediately. More jobs would come as the improved areas attracted development.
In Miami, for example, the group estimates that 14,375 jobs would be created each year for five years, while Denver would add 30,000 new jobs by 2020.
But it's not all about jobs and parks. Urban development projects like these do a lot of things all at once. They would demolish eye sores and create welcoming environments where people want to spend time.
And they could also take toxic assets off the books of small and mid-sized banks. Because if these kinds of projects are going to move from theory into practice they'll need a little help from the Fed. Messner explains:
Rather than backstop bad real estate paper, the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Treasury Department could help finance the acquisition of excess commercial real estate through a land bank fund. Instead of buying mortgage-backed securities, why couldn't the Fed buy excess developed real estate to be held as green space through "land-backed securities"? Why couldn't the FDIC give some of the useless properties it obtains through bank closures to land banks or nonprofit organizations? With the right financing structure, philanthropic entrepreneurs could use leverage to remake America just as some of our bad developers used easy bank financing to help create the excesses.
For my money, it sounds like a brilliant plan to revive, not only the human spirit, but also the city.
Photo: Bob Jagendorf/Flickr
[Via The Infrastructurist]
Feb 16, 2011
@ father.nature... We pushed for zoning changes on vacant city owned lots to ban the erection of billboards. When the city cracked down on private landlords over the conditions of their properties we held the city to the same standard on seized propertys. When the city council said they could not afford such levels of maintenance we quickly offered to help, but it was on the condition that they had to sign a contract turning over property maintenace to the neighborhood group on the condition the property became a park and was maintained as a park. As part of the maintenance proposal tell them you have a local veteran or similar person you wish to name the park after. We found a neighborhood family that had 4 generations of veterans that glady gave their name to the project. Get video of all the meetings for posting to a Facebook page sponsoring the park. Find a sympathetic local reporter to feed status updates to. When the city council makes the evening news for shooting down a neighborhood groups efforts to create a veterans park out of a vacant lot they tend to lose votes. I do not know what form of city government you have, but if you have a district councilor have a sit down with them and explain their options. Get on board or look stupid for opposing it. Good luck.
Hates Idiots has the right idea. Right now I'm looking for an appropriate action group to join. We actually have several, but they're insufficiently militant to make entertaining news and therefore accumulate little political presence, making them easy to ignore. For example, there is a large vacant corner lot at the end of my street. Some of the neighbors planted it in grass and shrubs with one border of flowers while seeking City approval. Then they put up a "Please Do Not Mow" sign on it. Despite the obvious mini-park development, the sign and pleas to the City, the City has mowed off all of the improvements. That, of course, hasn't stopped someone from erecting a nice, big garish billboard on the property and selling the advertising space. The City obligingly mows around it. We are currently turning part of the vacant lot next door into an urban garden - and are landscaping it with big rocks. If and when the City challenges us, we intend to make as big a stink as we can to oppose them - while keeping careful record of our supporters, whom we hope would constitute a pool containing some militants willing to help do something similar to what Hates Idiots suggests.
It sounds like Cleveland started to do what we did and the political hacks put a stop to it. We saw people who made their living off running programs to ASSIST the poor that fought every proposal brought forth. Building duplexes where a 6 tenet building burned down to relieve neighborhood congestion, splitting a property so 2 abutters could have real yards or building a community garden, it did not matter. Anything that improved a neighborhood and peoples outlook on life was opposed. We had to fight through it. Several neighborhood groups stormed city hall with hundreds of people for repeated city council meetings holding them accountable to keep the project rolling. At the next election 3 obstructionists on the city council, all democrats backed by the city unions and the people who made a living off the poor, were kicked out of office and replaced with people willing to follow through on the land reuse project. Our city is a better place for it. Good luck.
My hometown, which covers just 7 square miles, had over 700 vacant lots by 1991. Most of them were burned out shells the result of arson for insurance that swept the city in the late 1980s. In 1992 the city hired lawyers and seized over 500 of them. All of the homes were bulldozed with some of the land being sold as house lots, others being split between abutters to relieve urban congestion. About 10 were turned into little parks maintained by the neighborhood residents. (No cost to a poor city budget) Some of the new parks were used for community vegetable gardens. With a few, like one near where I grew up, becoming simple shaded areas with trees and grass.
Let the Chinese build parks, on those vacant lots. They can do it for one tenth, of what the government can. Then let the city's parks and recreation department, take care of them. After all, they build just about every thing else, that is sold in America. LOL!!!
Sure, then all those unemployed union workers in Cleveland could either get a job tending the park, or at least have a place to enjoy their unemployment on a bench surrounded by trees, birds, and squirrels. And since these communites are broke and have lost 50% of their population, just get some free public money! yeah, that's it. Since we're bankrupt, let's borrow more money and that way we can borrow our way out of debt... Q: What's the secret to ending unemployment and revitalizing the economy. A: Build parks! sheesh....
Sorry, but I have to agree with the naysayers. Coming from Michigan where all we hear about is the seemingly never ending troubles, trials, and tribulations of Detroit. I can not see where a city that no longer even HAS a parks and recreation department due to money problems, could possibly come up with the money to create a single park, much less maintain it. Think about it, this city can not even afford to cut it's own grass more than twice a year! Where are they going to come up with money to install benches, sidewalks, playground equipment, lighting, a bathroom & drinking fountain, fencing, sports fields, garbage cans, even a simple identification plaque would cost hundreds! Then the city would have to MAINTAIN them or else face the liability issue! Some kid gets injured on what is now city owned property.... Then there's the question of what to do about the criminal element. These parks would have to be patroled on some sort of regular basis. Right now I am aware of entire square blocks that have been completely abandoned so the city of Detroit no longer patrols, saving them money. And if you're thinking that at least this would encourage city's to create more jobs, maybe. But I doubt that the people hired would actually LIVE in the city. In Detroit at least, the COPS are even too afraid to live there! From ANY city's point of view you're talking about more negatives than positives. Tear down any buildings, let the vacant land remain so and let nature take care of it's own.
I agree with father.nature and DEfrom DC and similar comments. Good group chiming in here, on both sides. @Simon: Americatherealist is more like it!
It is amazing how little people know about the problem. All the parks and green programs do nothing until you help the inner city people get off welfare and drugs first, then help them learn to appreciate things including themselves. After that parks would help. I have tried revitalizing areas in the "hood" of Baltimore and some of it's citizens only to lose the investment because of the mindset that is so ingrained from government hand outs taking away their values under the name of assistance.
A plan to turn eyesores into public parks for communities and creating tens of thousands of jobs has too many hurdles in today's political climate. There is also the problem of maintenance as well as a need to prevent the new parks from turning into gang territory.
Good article, Tyler. Too bad most of your readers (at least most of the posting readers here) are card-carrying members of America the Negative. Oh well, they will die off, eventually, and you are young. Good luck.
It is a nice idea, but your picture confirms youthful ignorance. You'll exit the land of gumdrops and lollipops when you either fight those who would spend your money for you; or when you put your money where your mouth is.
Amazing how in only two years ('77-79) that Dennis Kucinich (claims reply #3 day@..) managed as mayor to cause the deterioration of the last thirty years (which actually accelerated twenty years earlier), and instigated the flight of the middle class to the far suburbs, a mirror of similar cities like Detroit. No doubt Cleveland has just as many or more City employees today as they did when the population was double and the tax base was ample. One must wonder how many even bother to report to work except to collect their paychecks. No, the parks idea is pie-in-the-sky. Not only is there no money to create them, but no money to maintain them. #7 father nature hit the nail right on the head, and until the corrupt administration is ousted, and excess public employees eliminated, Cleveland will continue to decline. Don't hold your breath. (sigh) A return to forests and farmland? That would be nice to replace some of that gobbled-up by suburban sprawl!
The only way this will work is if the people in the community where the park is to be located takes pride in their neighborhood. The vast majority of folks living in the cities could care less about the space they call home, and it is quite evident when you stroll (with your life in your hands) through some of the poorest neighborhood.. The people living there don't care, so why should anybody else?
I live in Cleveland. Cleveland is currently condemning and demolishing vacant houses and putting them into a Land Bank; the resulting non-buildable-sized lots are available to adjacent neighbors for a nominal sum for yard expansion, etc. to improve their cramped properties. Sounds good but Cleveland is NOT releasing them, instead burying them in a bureaucratic fog. There they sit, getting mowed a couple or three times per year, while the applicants for them wait...and wait...and wait. The applications are "lost," or are "awaiting approval" and then once again "lost" or simply flat-out made to disappear. After several years of excuses, the Land Bank's responses stand revealed as simple lies. If Cleveland can't even properly and appropriately dispose of small vacant lots, what gives you the idea that they can or will cooperate with disposing of larger, potentially commercially valuable properties? What are they waiting for? Appropriate bribes? Actually, I suspect they're waiting for some entrepreneurs to appear with plans and money so our fine elected officials can attach themselves to the projects, insert their proboscii and drain money, publicity, influence and power. Vacant and underused properties are a public official's version of investments. If he or she can sell someone on the idea of commercially redeveloping a property, said official will make wealthy and influential friends. Passing it on to a park will make a few people feel warm and fuzzy for a few weeks, after which it will be nearly politically impossible to take back the land for commercial development and political capital. Furthermore, the new parkland will require eternally ongoing maintenance, for which there is no politically advantageous source of funding, local or otherwise. Don't look to the County either. Our fine County officials have been under FBI investigation for several years and a number of them have been indicted for corruption. The rest are forted up. State of Ohio? Ohio detests public spending, and always has. You'll find no joy there. In short, ain't nothin' gonna happen until major money moves in and accepts a parasite load of public officials. The current situation does have its upside. These vacant and abandoned properties are great places for walking dogs, and, as they become overgrown, become mini wild-nature sanctuaries full of birds, insects, bushes, grasses, trees, deer, owls, crows and hawks, raccoon, opossums, groundhogs and skunks. Best of all, they are unregulated - go anytime, and take your camera and your dog. No officious ranger will ticket you. Their very wildness repels most city types, so you'll probably not have to deal with crowds. On a purely personal basis, the development of these abandoned tracts as parkland would be a natural disaster. My suggestion: let the tracts revert to wildland and let the public officials suck air while they search for another body to parasitize. Don't ask them to colonize something cool and green - they want blood, warm blood.
Lets see, Cleveland's population is down 50%. So where does the money come from to spruce up the place? People that don't live in Cleveland. While lots of parks and green space definitely do make a city more attractive to someone considering moving there, its only a small part of the decision. If there aren't already plenty of jobs available, it will make no difference.
Parks are great, especially in neighborhoods where people don't have their own back yards. They also cost to maintain as well as build. That can be a problem for a city with a shrinking population and, therefore, declining revenues.
"For my money, it sounds like a brilliant plan to revive, not only the human spirit, but also the city." Great. Give them *your* money then.
I just love all this talk about how a measly $2 BILLION investment will create all these jobs. Cleveland has been going downhill under the leadership of people like Dennis Kucinich (the boy mayor) who have never held a real job but are full of ideas about how to spend other people's money.
Yes, absolutely! A park would look a heck of a lot better than an old decaying building or a littered empty lot. Some green space in the city center would be a great thing!!