From Vacancy to Vibrancy

In response to increasing demand for homes in close-in neighborhoods, many cities and towns are pursuing redevelopment of places that have struggled with blight and disinvestment for years. These redevelopment initiatives are frequently impeded by the presence of properties with known or suspected contamination issues, which have often remained vacant in spite of federal, state … Continued

Bringing closed gas stations back to life

new-life-for-closed-gas
Old gas stations will take center stage at the New Life for Closed Gas Stations conference.
Left to right: Garage Bar, Louisville, KY; Red Truck Bakery, Warrenton, VA.

The first ever New Life for Closed Gas Stations conference begins Tuesday, June 3, in Orlando, Florida. Gas station sites may be small, but they pack a big redevelopment punch for the neighborhoods surrounding them.

The number of gas stations in the U.S. has declined every year since 2002, and there were 23% fewer places to buy gas in 2012 than there were in 1994. Typically in highly-visible locations along commercial corridors, these sites can be an asset for investors and local governments who want to make a big impression with limited redevelopment dollars. Prominent locations and interesting architecture have made old gas stations attractive to investors seeking a strong sense of place to anchor up-and-coming blocks.

Smart growth news – October 3, 2012

Is urban sprawl to blame for cities going bankrupt?
KPCC’s AirTalk (CA) – October 2, 2012
Former Ventura mayor William Fulton says that large public pensions aren’t solely to blame for California city bankruptcies. Urban sprawl poses additional problems.

America’s Great Streets Named By American Planning Association
Huffinton Post – October 3, 2012
As part of the Great Places in America program, the American Planning Association has compiled a list of America’s 10 Great Streets for 2012.

The New SimCity Will Turn You Into An Urban Planning Nut
Co.Exist – October 3, 2012
The newest version of the classic city building game is introducing complex models about things like energy, health care, and transportation. But you can also still destroy your city with an asteroid.

Pennsylvania's land bank bill to come before the State Senate

A land bank can make reusing vacant buand put them back into usefficient. Image from Take Back Vacant Land.

Members of the Pennsylvania State Senate will vote this week on proposed legislation that would make it easier to buy and redevelop blighted properties in the state.

HB 1682 would enable local leaders in Pennsylvania to establish land banks, entities that can hold and manage vacant properties to help get properties into the hands of responsible new owners more quickly. The bill passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in February and now awaits consideration by the Pennsylvania State Senate.

The difficult business of building on old gas stations

Across the country abandoned gas stations represent one of the trickiest problems facing small towns and big cities alike. In particular, old gas stations pose a threat to the land when their underground storage tanks begin to deteriorate, potentially leaking petroleum into the groundwater.

A recent New York Times article covered the ways in which the hamlet of High Falls, NY has sought to address the negative community impact of its abandoned gas stations. Investors have begun to clean up and redevelop these lots, and their efforts have turned unattractive, contaminated brownfields into office space, restaurants and small shops. These innovative projects are creating new ways to bring money into the local economy and are helping revitalize the community.

March news from the National Brownfields Coalition

New guide for local leaders helps overcome barriers to address nation’s blighted properties

A new guide for town, city and county leaders outlines how to build the financial and political support needed to reclaim and redevelop the thousands of abandoned gas stations, auto body shops, and industrial facilities nationwide.

From Vacancy to Vibrancy focuses on underground storage tank (UST) sites – properties with buried or partially buried tanks that have been used to store petroleum or other hazardous substances. When gas stations, auto body shops, industrial facilities or other types of development close down, these tanks are often left behind. As they age, the tanks are prone to leakage and can contaminate both soil and groundwater, posing a serious environmental threat. The new guide takes aim at one of the primary reasons these types of properties remain vacant for so long: many officials just don’t know what to do with them.

The new resource provides an overview of the tools and strategies available to leaders who want to transform UST sites into economic and community assets.

The guide also includes information about state and federal brownfield program requirements, brownfield redevelopment financing strategies, and multi-site planning techniques. An annotated list of resources is included at the end for further exploration.

Fighting blight in Pennsylvania: State House of Representatives passes land bank bill

In Pennsylvania today, more than 300,000 properties stand vacant. These properties cost municipalities millions of dollars each year in maintenance costs and even more in lost revenue. In Philadelphia alone – which has some 40,000 vacant properties – the City pays $20 million each year just to maintain those properties.

Last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives took a major step toward turning the state’s vacant properties back into homes and businesses. On Wednesday the House passed HB 1682, a bill that would allow counties and municipalities in Pennsylvania to create land banks. Land banks are entities that can hold and manage vacant, abandoned and foreclosed properties, making it faster, easier and cheaper for prospective new owners to purchase these properties and get them back into productive re-use.

Smart growth news – January 3, 2012

The bold urban future starts now
Salon, December 31, 2011
In cities in every region of the country, pie-in-the-sky ideas are moving from brainstorm to blueprint to groundbreaking — and 2012 will prove it.

Oklahoma City reaps positive effects of economic development
The Oklahoman, January 1, 2011
“Downtown Oklahoma City experienced significant changes this year (2011), but probably the most impactful was the renovation and grand reopening of the Myriad Gardens,” Jenkins said. “Construction of the Level Apartments and Aloft Hotel in Deep Deuce have really given that area a dense, urban feel, and the launch of the ‘Downtown It!’ advertising campaign increase awareness of all that downtown Oklahoma City has to offer.”

Study: Cities subsidize townships
Oxford Press (Ohio), January 2, 2012
There is an inequity in government subsidies for roads, police protection and other services that township residents receive compared with city residents, though both groups pay the same taxes, a University of Toledo study shows.

Smart growth news – December 19

New Study: Millennials Prefer Car “Access Over Ownership”
The City Fix, December 16, 2011
The “Millennial” generation is quickly adopting car sharing as a mainstream transportation solution, according to results from Zipcar’s second annual study of the personal transportation and car ownership behavior of 18- to 34-year-olds. The study found that 55 percent of this influential generation have made an effort to drive less, which is a 10 percent rise from 2010.

GAO report details local cost of vacant properties
American City & County, December 15, 2011
In 10 years, vacant properties in the U.S. have increased almost 50 percent, and local governments have spent millions of dollars maintaining them. A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) looks at how much those properties are costing local governments, and how cities and counties are responding to the issue.

Report: Big roads projects, big cities, big impact
Omaha World-Herald (Neb.), December 17, 2011
Building new roads doesn’t always boost economic development, a new study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln concludes, but large projects in larger communities have helped increase wages.

Smart growth news – December 14

Report: Housing shift seen as suburban spreads lose appeal
The Sacramento Bee, December 13, 2011
Is Sacramento’s long-standing love of suburban living winding down? A blunt new analysis says yes, but some local builders say no way. The report released this week by the Urban Land Institute contends that Sacramento and other California metropolitan areas are about to discover they have an “oversupply” of classic subdivision housing, thanks to a sea change in what buyers want and can afford.

Is the Housing Bust About to Slam City Budgets?
Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2011
City budget crises could be getting worse in the coming years as the housing bust shakes out by shrinking property tax revenues, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

Lawmaker’s high-speed rail plan: Will it fly?
CNN, December 13, 2011
How fast can high-speed trains come to the Northeast corridor? Not fast enough for Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida. The chairman of the House Transportation Committee recently came out with a proposal to create a high-speed rail line – trains that can travel more than 200 mph – between Boston and D.C. in 10 to 15 years. Can it be done in half the time Amtrak said it would take?