Greening Vacant Lots: Planning and Implementation Strategies

New York (December 2012) – A report prepared for The Nature Conservancy by the New York City Soil & Water Conservation District, provides ten case studies illuminating how leading cities plan, administer, and implement programs that convert vacant lots to green space–all in the context of regulatory requirements and broader redevelopment goals. ACTrees member organizations participating in the study include Parks & People Foundation, New York Restoration Project, Openlands, and The Greening of Detroit.

vacant lot

Photo credit: Kristen Bonardi Rapp

Storm water and vacant lots are both underutilized resources that can improve the environmental, economic and social well-being of cities. Municipalities around the country utilize ‘hard’ infrastructure such as retention tanks and end-of-the pipe treatment plants to manage storm water runoff. Vacant lots and abandoned buildings reduce quality of life and property values, discourage investment, and stress municipal budgets.

Recently, cities around the country have begun to manage storm water runoff using green infrastructure to advance EPA regulatory requirements. The City of Philadelphia is a national leader; the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) has a goal of filtering or storing the first inch of rain with green infrastructure to reduce the volume of combined sewer overflows.

Each case study traces one program or initiative led by a public agency or NGO from the planning stage through implementation, emphasizing how programs have overcome barriers. The report analyzes across the cases to identify effective practices cities use to green vacant lots, advancing open space and storm water management goals. These findings are applied to the context of Philadelphia.

The report provides five recommendations to the PWD, based on local assets and barriers to greening vacant lots:

  • First, we recommend that the PWD pilot a neighborhood-based vacant lots plan. This pilot should create a planning model that could be applied to other CSO areas in the city, identify institutional barriers to implementation, and develop strategies to overcome these institutional barriers.
  • Second, to support this planning effort and coordinate among city agencies and NGOs, we recommend the PWD dedicate a position to the greening of vacant lots.
  • Third, planning efforts should integrate active uses where feasible, potentially including larger vacant lots already used as parks.
  • Fourth, we suggest the PWD develop a smaller sites strategy to construct and maintain storm water greenways.
  • And finally, the PWD should consider flexible models of ownership and maintenance.

Download the complete report, “Greening Vacant Lots: Planning and Implementation Strategies.”