It is no secret that vacant lots pose difficult challenges by influencing crime and the vitality of residential and commercial areas, which furthermore decreases tax bases and property values for urban areas. It is important now more than ever to address the surplus of vacant lots and properties, which despite good intentions and modest success, existing planning and urban revitalization policies fail to effectively address in terms of both physical and social conditions. With new multi-modal transportation initiatives, Minneapolis has the potential to incorporate creative solutions into redevelopment. It is time to abandon the traditional chain and big box store, conversion to condo space and retail malls engulfed by a sea of parking spots approach (which will eventually become outdated) and start incorporating more innovative elements, exemplifying smart growth principles.
Take the example of City of Richfield’s “the Hub” center. Bordering south Minneapolis, the once retail and service destination has become another outdated strip mall bordered by widely congested corridors channeling into an endless parking maze. The lack of versatility in retail adds to the deteriorating exterior. Recently, this area has been experiencing a transformation by incorporating local and entrepreneurial businesses, mixed-income housing complexes, community spaces and incentives/grants for local business owners for streetscaping.
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It may take time until this area experiences a full transformation, but the city is taking an innovative and non-traditional approach to the re-development of vacant properties with the capital they have. Looking to this as an example, there are principles that cities should incorporate when dealing with infill development:
- First and foremost, urban planners must develop new policies that reflect today’s social and physical landscape transformation;
- Incentives to attract entrepreneurs and local businesses;
- Grants for existing businesses for streetscape improvements and landscape design;
- Right-sizing via green infrastructure;
- Public spaces that create unique experiences;
- Variety in housing and retail;
- Success in terms of regional impact (i.e. multi-modal transportation);
- Compact/Accessible (i.e. all shopping and daily-errands can be completed in one area within walking distance);
- Private/Public Partnerships and Neighborhood Consensus.
There will be no shortage in abandoned and/or vacant properties, and what cities can do is focus the limited resources they have on incorporating green technologies and initiatives in order to create density rather than build out.
What innovative approach or type of re-development would you like to see take place on vacant lots in your urban center?
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