Turning vacancies into communities

Dealing with previously occupied vacant lands and spaces isn’t a new challenge for communities. Despite booms and busts over the last century, the continued growth of cities has usually offered new developments, businesses, and citizens to fill the void, sometimes with little effort. However, as the last few decades have shown in previously robust Great Lakes region industrial communities, economic and demographic growth alone can no longer be the solution. So how can cities, businesses, and organizations respond?

A range of scalable and transferable strategies have been getting attention of late, offering some potential answers to this question. Cities like DetroitFlint, or Milwaukee continue to develop innovative land use and economic development approaches to respond to a surplus of vacant land and the need to sustainably manage a city with out-sized infrastructure, land area, and building stock. Private businesses have stepped up as well, with ambitious and creative projects emerging to generate interest in neglected areas. But it’s not just the cities of the rust belt that have to contend with these issues. Vacancies in comparatively vibrant cities like New York and San Francisco have generated neighbourhood level and community-oriented initiatives and businesses based on community need and available space (even temporarily available space in some cases).

Whether parkland, community gardens, or art installations, each case is focused on reclaiming spaces for community or economic development uses that can generate a renewed interest in neighbourhoods and cities. Most of these initiatives are in their early stages, but the diverse range of these projects and continued efforts to develop new and innovative practices suggest that cities, businesses, and engaged citizens are driving the transformation of vacant spaces into economic and community development assets, rather than liabilities.

This post originally appeared in TINAN 50Subscribe to TINAN to get the latest economic development news and resources.