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Five ways a rust belt city can manage vacant properties

A familiar sight in any rust belt city.
Jinjian Liang
via Flickr
A familiar sight in any rust belt city.

Syracuse, like many other rust belt cities, is struggling with vacant houses.  Recent estimates, bolstered by more accurate record keeping, have shown the number of vacant houses rising. Paul Driscoll, the city’s commissioner of neighborhoods and business development, says there are now at least 1,700 vacant properties in the city.  But Driscoll says there are ways to handle blight.

1. Cities need to keep track of the issue

 You need to know the problem, and you have to own the problem. Turning the other way and not counting it  means planners have no idea what’s out there.

2. Get a handle on the city’s vacant housing stock to help stabilize the housing market

Vacant and derelict properties drag down the value of surrounding properties. Studies show one bad house can take down a block or a whole neighborhood.  Keeping on top of properties that are heading south can prevent blight from piling up – and property values from plummeting en masse.

3. Use technology to keep track of vacant properties.

GIS Mapping and other advances in technology can help cities do this. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) allow city planners to create layered maps of a city, dedicating one layer to vacant properties, and another to demographic information. Examining where vacant properties in a city are located is a way to analyze and focus revitalization strategies.

4. Target your efforts

With a limited amount of resources, a scattershot approach isn’t going to solve the problem. So you really need to focus on areas that are 15 blocks or smaller in order to make an impact with any sort of revitalization effort.

5. Don’t look at vacant properties as single entities

Don’t look at vacant structures in a vacuum. They are part of a block or neighborhood. Developers should create “block plans,” not just individual property restoration plans. Driscoll says Syracuse doesn’t want applications for 123 Main Street, they want to know how property development is going to affect the entire 100 block of Main Street.

Innovation Trail is working on highlighting one Syracuse start-up’s solution to the vacant housing problem.D-Build.orgworks to promote deconstruction for blighted properties rather than demolition. If a house is deconstructed, the materials can be repurposed for new construction projects rather than end up in a landfill. More on that in the coming week. To comment on vacant housing, visit ourFacebook page.

Innovation Trail alumnus Ryan Morden is originally from Seattle. He graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor's in journalism, minoring in political science and Scandinavian studies. Morden was Morning Edition producer and reporter at WRVO before moving over to the Innovation Trail project. Before landing at WRVO, Morden covered the Washington State legislature as a correspondent for Northwest News Network (N3), a group of nine NPR affiliates in the northwest.
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