New book a resource for communities facing foreclosures, blight

The Center for Community Progress is pleased to release a new book, Land Banks and Land Banking, by CCP co-founder and General Counsel Frank Alexander. The new book offers public officials and community leaders a step-by-step guide for taking control of problem properties and then leveraging them to spur smart development and meet community needs.

With inventories of vacant and abandoned properties at unprecedented levels, Alexander argues that empty lots and unoccupied buildings are not nuisances, as they often seem to be, but are instead potential resources for fueling economic recovery, driving community development and strengthening real estate markets. As the author explains, land banks have emerged as a key tool for urban planners, especially in response to the mortgage crisis. Land banking gives communities control of the unused land resources within their borders and helps leaders create catalytic opportunities for new development when private sector support is absent.

Today there are 79 land banking initiatives across the country, with a number of additional land banking bills up for consideration in state legislatures. Vacant properties acquired, developed, restored and/or resold by land banking authorities have already catalyzed millions of dollars in new private investments.

Download a free copy of Land Banks and Land Banking, or get a first edition copy at the 2011 Land Bank Conference, going on this week in Detroit, MI, June 5-7, 2011. Learn more at


SGA News Clips, 4/1/11

Texas road to the future is looking bumpy, Panel predicts $170 billion shortfall by 2030
Houston Chronicle, 3/31/11
AUSTIN — Transportation funding in Texas is “unacceptable” and will increase traffic congestion and highway maintenance costs if not corrected, according to an updated report commissioned to investigate the long-term transportation infrastructure needs of the state.
The report released Thursday by the 2030 Committee projects a $170 billion gap between the amount of money that needs to be invested in transportation to keep commutes from getting worse and the amount of money the state expects to bring in from federal freeway funds, the gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees between 2011 and 2035.
“I grew up in Texas, and we always knew that we had an interstate that was beautiful and free,” said David Marcus, vice chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission-created committee. “Now we’ve got a different world. Texas can’t pay for this anymore.”

Urban centers draw more young, educated adults
USA Today, 4/1/11
In more than two-thirds of the nation’s 51 largest cities, the young, college-educated population in the past decade grew twice as fast within 3 miles of the urban center as in the rest of the metropolitan area — up an average 26% compared with 13% in other parts.
“This is a real glimmer of hope,” says Carol Coletta, head of CEOs for Cities, a non-profit consortium of city leaders that commissioned the research. “Clearly, the next generation of Americans is looking for different kinds of lifestyles — walkable, art, culture, entertainment.”

New transportation bill has public-private option
The Columbus Dispatch, 3/31/11
The state can use private dollars to help pay for public road and other infrastructure projects, thanks to the $6.8 billion transportation bill that Gov. John Kasich signed into law during a public ceremony yesterday.
In turn, private groups that partner with the Department of Transportation on projects can reap profits through interest payments from the state, toll collections or other user fees.

The New American Ghost Towns
The Atlantic, 3/31/11
Data from states and large metropolitan areas do not tell the story of how much the real estate disaster has turned certain areas in the country into ghost towns. Some of the affected regions are tourist destinations, but much of that traffic has disappeared as the recession has caused people to sell or desert vacation homes and delay trips for leisure. This makes these areas particularly desolate when tourists are not around.

Soglin, Cieslewicz offer different priorities to deal promote economic development (Madison, Wisconsin) 3/31/11
Former Mayor Paul Soglin and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz are offering different priorities to promote economic development and preserve the city’s quality of life.
“The biggest challenge is jobs; jobs for everybody” from high school graduates to Ph.D.s Soglin said.
Cieslewicz is pushing for a “modern economy” that combines technology, education and research with a place companies want to be. The latter comes through good basic services, sound infrastructure and a sensible approach to approving developments, he said.
Soon, the city will have a new zoning code and an improved process for reviewing developments, he said, as well as a study for a new Monona Terrace hotel, Government East parking garage, public market and high-speed rail station southeast of Capitol Square. Soglin said the new zoning code puts too many restrictions on building height.

France’s new measure of well-being: Boredom
Marketplace, 4/1/11
Emilie Zola is leading the project for the government statistics office. Emilie Zola: Ennui correlates with a lack of social engagement; a bored worker is not a productive worker. That said, ennui can drive the creative process and, therefore, drive innovation.


EPA Grant Helps Right-Size Saginaw, MI

This post is part of an ongoing series about organizations that have received grants from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Did your organization receive one of these grants? Tell us about it!

Lapeer Ave in downtown Saginaw, originally uploaded by Ian Freimuth.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently selected 25 communities from across the country to receive technical assistance under its Smart Growth Implementation Assistance program – and one of them was Saginaw, Michigan. Saginaw was selected to receive assistance developing a plan to right-size its urban land area and coordinate its infrastructure investments. Both objectives are directly connected to improving sustainability and livability for the city’s residents and businesses.

Saginaw is a midsize, manufacturing-based city located in the heart of Michigan. Over the past decade, roughly 10% of its total population has moved out of the city limits. This population loss, coupled by an increase in abandoned and vacant properties, means nearly 5,500 properties in the city are currently unused and unmaintained. In total, nearly 25% of the city is physically empty or on the verge of demolition yet still requires a full range of public services, like sewer, water, roads, lighting, and police and fire protection.


Ohio land bank strikes pioneering deal with Fannie Mae to stabilize troubled neighborhoods

The Cleveland housing market is experiencing a disaster of nearly biblical proportions. Last year, more than 13,000 foreclosure cases were filed in Cuyahoga County, which includes the greater Cleveland area. In response, the County Commissioners assembled the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, a non-profit organization dedicated to acquiring and restoring vacant properties into productive parts of the community. Last month the land bank took a leap forward by forging a unique agreement with mortgage giant Fannie Mae that could be a game-changer for the distressed Cleveland region — and a model for other communities hit hard by the foreclosure crisis nationwide.


Can smarter land use help stop violence in the community?

The public health field often looks at changing individual behavior to get better outcomes – we offer driver’s education to prevent accidents, or conduct public service announcements about the importance of exercise to lower obesity levels. New research on violent crime helps illustrate the fact that the choices people make are influenced by the places they live, and that what we choose to do with the physical space in our communities can play a critical role in our efforts to help keep people safer and healthier.


Lawmakers and revitalization advocates talk about the Regeneration Act

Image from “Steel Valley: Meltdown” (This post was written by National Vacant Properties Campaign intern Ryan Kraske.) Over fifty people gathered on Capitol Hill last Thursday in support of new legislation that would strengthen cities and metropolitan areas that have experienced large-scale property vacancy and abandonment. The Community Regeneration, Sustainability, and Innovation Act of 2009 … Continued


600+ people attend Reclaiming Vacant Properties in Pittsburgh

Last week, nearly 650 people gathered in Pittsburgh, PA for Reclaiming Vacant Properties, the first ever national conference on the topic. The conference was the culmination of years of dreaming and working by the National Vacant Properties Campaign. Over 500 people were registered before the event, but the large number of walk-up registrants Monday morning … Continued