The first question is how a city can move these vacancies into the hands of owners who are willing and able to repair, build and improve the sites. The second question is what to do when no such owners exist. On both counts, American cities are putting forth a variety of answers, from dollar homes to sprawling urban farms. At the end of the line, they hope, is a revitalized urban landscape. It may not look much like what came before.
At the center of the vacant property renaissance is the land bank, a city authority that can take control over thousands of abandoned homes and turn them into something the community needs, housing or otherwise. Michigan has dozens of land banks. In Cleveland, the Cuyahoga Land Bank demolished its 2,000th property last month. Chicago and Philadelphia are on the verge of having land banks of their own.
“In the past 24 months alone, five states have enacted comprehensive land bank legislation,” says Frank S. Alexander, a professor at Emory Law School in Atlanta who helped write those laws. The land bank concept has an appeal that transcends geographic and economic borders. ”New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska. What do those states have in common? Absolutely nothing.”