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Turning Redfields to Greenfields in Philadelphia and Beyond

This post is a follow-up to our previous entry about Philadelphia’s plan to turn 500 acres of underused land into city parks by 2015.

When a single good-sized maple tree can add over $7,000 to a home’s sale value, according to a study in Portland, Oregon, it’s not difficult to imagine the effect of turning large swaths of derelict urban land into parks, gardens, and playgrounds. Private properties in financial distress, or “redfields,” are the focus of a number of cities, such as Philadelphia, that are developing creative re-utilization strategies for underused land.

Increased property values are expected to be one of the most profound impacts of the Green 2015 initiative; the report states that vacant properties can reduce adjacent home values by 6-20%, adding up to a total of $3.6 billion in lost household wealth across the city.

Parks can significantly increase nearby property values, as evidenced in the real estate that surrounds Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.

Well-tended parks could not only eliminate this negative effect, but also significantly improve the value of nearby residences. The Center for City Park Excellence has calculated that Philadelphia’s 10,000 acre park system is responsible for adding $220 million to the assessed value of nearby homes. Though the study only included parks larger than one acre, it is known that even small green spaces can influence property values. 

As part of its Green City Blue Lake initiative, Cleveland began the ReImagining a Greater Cleveland program in 2008, which is focused largely on promoting urban agriculture and green infrastructure. Cleveland has 20,000 vacant lots, 5,000 of which are held in a land bank. With funds from the Surdna Foundation, Neighborhood Progress, Inc., and Cleveland’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, 56 community groups have started pilot projects which the city will examine to develop best practices moving forwards.

Residents of Baltimore have undertaken many self-motivated conversions of city-owned vacant land.  Community gardens, pocket parks, and horseshoe courts, often marked with handmade signs, have sprouted up in unused lots. When the city recently announced efforts to accelerate the sale of 14,000 of its vacant lots, a group called Baltimore Green Space responded by enlisting residents to help catalog the vacant properties which they had converted, which the city plans to use to help preserve up to 300 green spaces.

Miami-Dade County’s redfields to greenfields plan, centered on the creation of transit-oriented parks alongside the Metrorail line and Miami River greenways, emphasizes job creation as a primary benefit. The construction industry (hit hard by the same recession responsible for the glut of abandoned properties in the region) could stand to gain over 14,000 jobs per year over five years, reports the City Parks Alliance.

The process of cleaning up vacant sites can be green and economical, too. The Dirt (ASLA blog) featured an article recently detailing how abandoned brownfield sites can be cleaned up with a process called phytoremediation, in which plants absorb toxins into their tissue. Some plants eliminate the toxins entirely, while others have to be removed as hazardous waste. In any case, the process, used by Cleveland in some of its pilot projects, can be 90% cheaper than traditional methods while providing the added bonus of improved air quality and stormwater retention.

Cities pursuing redfield to greenfield strategies are varied in terms of geography and economic history, but their ethos, summed up nicely by ReImagining a Greater Cleveland, is the same:

A city’s weakness is only as weak as their lack of ability to see potential in the opportunity any ‘crisis’ affords.

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  1. [...] Turning Redfields to Greenfields in Philadelphia and Beyond [...]

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