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10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania

Rethinking Urban Land

Community leaders and municipal officials have long considered vacant property a nuisance or a detriment. True. Vacant properties in the conventional sense are non performing assets; they do not provide tax revenue. Traditionally, vacant properties are home to trash and debris. However, conventional wisdom may be changing.

Several years ago, 10,000 Friends partnered with the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR) and Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development (PPND) to create the Pittsburgh Neighborhood and Community Information System (PNCIS), a web-based property information tool. The reason for creating PNCIS was to enable community leaders and policy makers to use information to be more strategic in their thinking and to encourage creative solutions to some of the nagging challenges facing communities. Similar data ventures exist in Philadelphia and are now taking root in smaller cities like York and Reading.

As a result of accessible property information a new perspective is emerging on vacant property and how they can be repurposed. Armed with data, more creative approaches are being developed by municipal leaders, advocates and universities. One such concept includes the formation of land banks, a municipal or quasi municipal entity whose sole purpose is to acquire and repurpose vacant and under utilized land. The idea has already taken shape in such cities like Cleveland and Flint, Michigan.

Currently, both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have initiated working groups to investigate the feasibility of the land bank concept. Also, legislation was introduced by Rep. John Taylor last fall in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. House Bill 712 (Taylor) provides provisions that clarify what a municipality would need to do in order to form a land bank.

Land banks, if constructed properly, can address some of the challenges created by vacant land by enabling municipalities to reposition land for marketable purposes or to incorporate land as an environmental asset. Forming land banks should encourage municipal cooperation, since land does not stop at one border and begin at another. And, municipalities should conduct comprehensive land use planning and ensure consistency between existing land uses, and agencies that handle property related matters.

If you are interested in learning more about land banks contact Grant Ervin at

Grant Ervin, Southwestern Pennsylvania Regional Director, 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania A view down Main Street Rochester Monaca Bridge Rail, Trail and Road Construction along Rt. 28 Academic Village PCTI Project Urban Park Under Construction Marianne Geyer