Grounds for Change: Activating Vacant Land

Resources / Action Blog

The Ugly Truth About Philly’s Vacant Lots

Posted by: amy on July 08, 2011

Image credit: Philadelphia Weekly

This map and interactive list of all city-owned vacant properties in Philadelphia simultaneously offers an information resource and a call for action.

About 40,000 vacant lots are spread across Philadelphia, like scabs festering on the city grid. According to a database provided by the city, more than 12,000 (see database below; addresses are grouped by ZIP code) are publicly owned, controlled by various agencies such as the Redevelopment Authority, Philadelphia Housing Authority, Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation and the city's Public Property department. The privately owned vacant properties are the city's problem, too, with owners frequently missing or dead, meaning the only way the land can be developed is through a sheriff's sale or eminent-domain seizure. With parcels as thin as 15 feet wide, buying sufficient square footage for development from multiple city agencies is a near impossible challenge for which the city has yet to find a comprehensive solution.

Read the full article and download a Google Doc spreadsheet of property listings by clicking here.

The Philadelphia Weekly is not the first newspaper to post lists of vacant properties: the Buffalo News compiled street-by-street survey in 2008 that has since gone offline.

Rob Goodspeed's coverage of vacant property mapping in Washington, D.C., touches on several examples of community-initiated surveys.  Goodspeed, a PhD candidate in M.I.T.'s Department of Urban Studis and Planning, posted a call for a community vacant property database and  conducted his own targeted survey in 2007, a year before the foreclosure crisis multiplied foreclosed and abandoned properties across the country.  VacantDC, a website and smartphone app-in-development by Shaun Farrell, was apparently inspired by Goodspeed's proposal.  The site features an interactive map, searchable database, and browseable lists.  The city does not currently offer a comparable list on its official website.

How transparent is your local government about the availability, accessibility, and ownership of vacant properties?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Image credit: Philadelphia Weekly