Vacant Land Inspiration – Green Stormwater Infrastructure

What if we could simultaneously transform two sets of liabilities into assets?  

Massive financial investments are currently pouring into the Pittsburgh region to manage stormwater in order to 1) reduce combined sewer overflows and 2) improve water quality. Utilizing vacant land to manage stormwater represents an opportunity to improve community economic, environmental and social health through the transformation of two large sets of liabilities into assets. Cities across the nation, such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Tallahassee, are repurposing vacant land to manage stormwater and reduce the impacts of flooding.

Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) refers to a suite of practices that manage stormwater through natural processes associated with soil and plants. These include things such as rain gardens, bioswales, trees and more. GSI not only manages stormwater but it has also been shown to improve air quality, increase property values, reduce excessive heat in urban areas and more. The environmental, social and economic impacts of GSI can be exponentially realized when the efforts simultaneously eliminate the negative effects of vacant property.

Through our current work with Economic Development South to support the development of a Green Blvd along Route 51, we’ve been conducting benchmarking to understand how other cities use vacant land to manage stormwater, reduce the impacts of flooding and improve community and environmental health. Keep reading to learn about some of the inspiring actions we found across the country in the stormwater / vacant land realm.

Cleveland, Ohio

Two complementary initiatives are facilitating GSI and vacant land repurposing: Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) Green Infrastructure Plan (2013) and Reimagining a Greater Cleveland. Tools include 8 Ideas for Vacant Land Reuse in Cleveland and Reimagining Cleveland: Ideas to Action Resource Book. In addition to prioritizing vacant land for GSI, NEORSD is incorporating green ‘leave-behinds’ in areas where grey infrastructure is required.

Vacant property repurposed with permeable pavers in Cleveland. Photo: EPA

New Orleans, Louisiana

In 2013, New Orleans published the Greater New Orleans Urban Waters Plan which outlines approaches and various projects to reduce flooding, manage stormwater, revitalize neighborhoods and improve quality of life. Many of the projects incorporate vacant land reuse, such as utilizing GSI on vacant lots to create green corridors within neighborhoods, aggregating lots to create stormwater parks and riverfront vacant commercial property revitalization with a focus on green.

Formerly vacant lot repurposed with bioinfiltration area, curb cut to help get stormwater onsite and large tree in New Orleans. Photo: EPA

Baltimore, Maryland

Launched in 2014, the Growing Green initiative aims to green and repurpose vacant lots in order to revitalize communities and serve other goals, such as stormwater management. One tool is the Green Pattern Book. Prior to this initiative, Baltimore successfully married GSI and vacant lot repurposing through other projects such as Watershed 263, which incorporated a variety of goals such as stormwater management, increased urban tree canopy, improved air quality, etc. in a variety of land uses including 200 vacant lots, 4 schoolyards and streetscapes.

Formerly vacant lot being repurposed as a rain garden in Baltimore. Photo: Baltimore City Scape

Can you imagine the possibilities in Pittsburgh?


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