The Bigger Picture

A lot has been said and studied about the economics of vacant land and there is certainly more to say and study.  When it comes to the economics of vacant land, it is best described as a negative externality, which if remains unmaintained creates a substantial social cost to its surroundings. There are obvious financial damages to our local institutions and subsequently the public as consumers of those public services.  And there are far less measurable, but obvious impacts on hyperlocal commercial activities. How often do you see thriving business districts with vacant lots interspersed between storefronts? My guess is not frequently. However, oftentimes we lose the forest for the trees.

The Grounded team wrestles daily with the fine details of implementing services like greenspace design, stormwater management, and vacant parcel maintenance.  The aim of this post and much of our upcoming policy work in 2019 will attempt to take a step back and look at things through a wide-angle lens. These strategic priorities will help continuously guide our higher-level program development, monitoring practices, and outcome evaluations.  Every organization is performing a constant balancing act between the nitty-gritty of day-to-day operations and long-term strategic imperatives, Grounded is no different.

visual of the impact vacant land has on the economy, the environment, health, and socially (click to use interactive features).

The above visualization attempts to illustrate this 30,000 ft. view and what determinants are at stake when Grounded frames its mission and vision.  It answers (incompletely) how and to what degree, vacant lots impact societal, communal, and individual well-being. We invite you to click bubbles of interest areas, which link to the relevant research (where available).  After you have done that, feel free to read on about our cursory insights into the state of the research and how we think vacant land fits into the bigger picture.

The most profound and measurable effects of vacancy are within the health sphere, possibly to the extent of affecting cardiovascular health.  Studies have shown the impact of vacant land on stress, aggression, and violent crime among target populations. There was an infamous 1982 Atlantic article entitled “Broken Windows” that laid the groundwork for how negative externalities, like vacant land and property, interact with social crime dynamics.  Vacant land is also a vehicle to improve environmental health, such as through habitat creation, stormwater management, and lead remediation.  Lastly, we have organizational evidence, reports, and anecdotes, which speak to how vacant land maintenance can provide significant workforce development and community networking opportunities.


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