What to do with vacant city lots


I found the recent NYTimes piece "Finding the Potential in Vacant Lots" fascinating.  Good job, Michael Tortorello!

It makes the case that the number of vacant lots in Rust Belt cities is a huge and growing problem.  Just one factoid proves that – the city of Cleveland spends $3.3 million a year mowing them.

But in desperation, people are trying some innovative solutions:

One Ultra-Ex project being led by the Cleveland Botanical Garden involves planting a vacant lot in the Buckeye neighborhood with low-mow fescue, a slow-growing pasture grass, and establishing a vegetative fence. Down the block is one of six learning farms that the botanical garden runs through its Green Corps program. With three acres under cultivation and 60 teenage workers, the urban farms will grow and sell or give away 15,000 pounds of fresh produce this summer, said the program’s director, Geri Unger.


  1. There is an open lot across the street from our house, been that way for years. The neighbors keep trying to plant things in it, but the manager of the lot keeps mowing it over.

    We’d love to turn it into a garden. But the owner wants to give it to the church so they can turn it into a parking lot (there is never a problem with street parking for that church, they’re just too lazy to park a block away and walk).

  2. Toledo has started a “You mow it you own it” program. Contiguous property owners maintain the vacant lot for a period of time to pay the back taxes (based on the cost of the city mowing the lot with city workers)

  3. Thanks for posting this article! We need to move beyond the shrill screaming about invasives vs. natives and get real data about the specifics of urban ecology.

  4. We have a not really vacant but poorly maintained community center on our street and I would love something to do done like this to it (and the large fenced side yard that is just grass). Maybe after we have been here longer, I will be able to do something about it …

  5. Beware the landlord… just get it in writing. The saddest thing to see is years of work, compost, and effort being bulldozed.

    If it really going to sit, may be worth seeing how much they want for it!

  6. With regard to the cities spending millions on mowing vacant lots, maybe they should copy some Swiss towns. In Ostmundigen, a shepherd with a small flock of sheep sets up a snowfence around patches of grass needing to be mown and lets his sheep in to nibble the grass down. No gas used other than transporting the animals from one site to another in a small van, neatly kept grassy areas, and meat and wool on the hoof. And the pleasure of having sheep with their tinkling bells instead of the whine and growl of lawn mowers.

  7. I remember a lecture I once sat through explaining that if there really was some sort of economic disaster (as in a complete shut down) that the distance from downtown to food growing land would only need to be 20 miles. There is enough unused and farm-able land within that circle to feed the entire population of the city. A lot of the open land already belongs to the city anyway – its just that no one is growing food on it. This computer model was scalable to any sized city. It was an eye-opener for me and gave me hope for the future.

  8. I just did a project where I helped a non-profit identify vacant lots w/in the city for prospective community gardens. Amazing how many there are, scattered in all areas !

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