The True Value of Vacant Land

March 15, 2018

As urban regions continue to develop, making the best of the spaces in-between is a growing necessity. In shifting cities like Philadelphia, vacant land is a burgeoning opportunity to accomplish this. Philadelphia boasts over 40,000 vacant lots, and stakeholders are working to redevelop these spaces left and right.

 

The term “vacant land” often carries a negative connotation, so it brings no surprise that our objective is to develop these parcels as fast as possible in the name of revitalization. Development can be good - but in the haste to advance new houses and amenities, we tend to gloss over an increasingly necessary ecological perspective. As offices and apartment buildings sprout up across the city, the vacant lots between them continue to validate the power of nature as plants erupt through the pavement. This past summer, I visited vacant lots across the city and experienced this first-hand.

 

One of my visits was to Logan Triangle, a 35-acre sprawl of vacant land in the heart of Northern Philadelphia. The area was developed in the early 1900s after the Wingohocking Creek (once a major tributary to Frankford Creek) was filled in with fly ash to build houses. In the 1950s, over 900 homes in the area began to sink due to this unstable soil. By the 1980’s, the problem was so severe that the entire area was condemned and demolished. Today, a grid of streets remains amongst the weeds: a ghost of the former urban landscape.

 

Logan Triangle, August 2017

 

Given its tumultuous past, I was surprised to find rolling hills of wildflowers spotted with butterflies during my summer exploration of Logan Triangle. After a century of destruction, development, and demolition, nature has made a reappearance.

 

Development mishaps like the burying of Wingohocking Creek make a strong case for urban conservation. The abundance of vibrant vacant spaces now reminds us of the importance to restore and preserve urban ecosystems: systems that provide unparalleled resources, health, and resilience to urban neighborhoods.

 

Learn about LandHealth Institute's initiatives to restore urban ecosystems at LandHealthInstitute.org/projects

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