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NORTHERN OHIO – Request for Ideas | Urban Design: Land Bank and Vacant Lot Repurposing

April 12, 2010

The recent passing of state legislation empowers Ohio communities currently dealing with the snowballing socio-economic problems of vacant property through a pilot project land banking program initiated in Cuyahoga county last year. Strickland’s signing of House Bill 313 expands a pilot project launched last June in Cuyahoga County. Under the law, 41 counties in the state can fund land banks with loans or bonds whose debt service would be covered by revenue from penalties and interest on delinquent real estate taxes. The approach is based on a land bank model used in Genesee County, Michigan, which includes the foreclosure-ravaged city of Flint.

The legislation allows counties with more than 60,000 residents to form and operate county-wide non-profit land banks, providing a comprehensive regional planning tool to address foreclosures, abandonment, and blight.

With this bill, we are giving dozens of Ohio counties a vital new tool to proactively acquire abandoned properties. In the hands of local government, these homes can be rehabbed, redeveloped, or if they’re too far gone, demolished with the land held for future development. Land banks have been credited with increasing real estate equity, improving the local economy, and strengthening neighborhood stability.

– Gov. Ted Strickland

This program will allow our [communities] to take control of its own destiny, instead of being held hostage by land speculators or Wall Street banks. It will be an important weapon in the battle to stabilize and restore our neighborhoods, and it allows us to fight urban blight without having to raise taxes.

– Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz

Ultimately, this will create opportunities for a population starving for jobs. Not only will it mean positions for administrators, but construction and demolition contractors will have plenty of work, along with the green collar jobs that are compatible with our area’s economic resources.

The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC) at Kent State University’s College of Architecture & Environmental Design has been at the forefront in the development of possible solutions for vacant properties. Citing socio-economic trends, their Shrinking Cities Institute has researched the causes and effects of our post-industrial shell across the Great Lakes states and the Midwest, while acknowledging the basic needs of the remaining population.

Cold Creek Crossing in Sandusky, OH, that fell victim to sprawl and a Shrinking City.

The CUDC recently released a publication on BioCellars, complete with diagrams and colorful pictures, outlining a plan to repurpose the empty foundations of torn down structures, specifically those with a basement floor, designated for community building projects. Here is an excerpt from the last page of the publication:

If the timeline stretches far enough into the future, it becomes clear that all cities are growing and all cities are declining—everything is in flux. The BioCellar model harvests the opportunities embedded in the natural processes of change and creates a do-it-yourself approach for managing urban infrastructure.

BioCellars are a direct response to population loss and urban decline, but they also set a framework in place for future growth by lowering energy costs in city neighborhoods and fostering new patterns of grassroots entrepreneurship. In shrinking cities discourse, a biological metaphor is often used to explain the phenomenon under way in older industrial cities…a city is like a biological organism that grows and matures, then declines and dies. This is the wrong metaphor. A city is not like a biological organism; it’s like a biological system. Decay in a biological system is not followed by death, it’s followed by transformation. If we guide the processes of decline and development carefully, deterioration will lead to re-growth in a new and more resilient form.

BioCellar can be temporary or permanent, singular or clustered, striking in its architectural vocabulary or mild-mannered and
inconspicuous. A BioCellar is infrastructure made legible—a window into the systems that give life to cities.

While the scale and architectural diversity of BioCellars within the upcoming infrastructure framework is limitless, there is an obvious focus on urban argiculture. Considering our national health crisis and recent declarations by Michelle Obama to end childhood obesity, it is no surprise that a majority of these solutions are designed to support regional food and resource economies.

Click on image for PDF copy of Biocellar study.

View this document on Scribd

Another piece of legislation designed to empower local communities is in the works, coming straight from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Introduced by Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), who serves the counties in the 9th District (Lucas, Ottawa, Erie and Lorain), H.R. Bill 4971 is a plan to effectively encourage local agricultural production and increase the availability of fresh food in urban areas, particularly underserved communities experiencing hunger, poor nutrition, obesity, and food insecurity. With its passing, it would be known as the “Greening Food Deserts Act”.

According to H.R. 4971, in 2001, at least 2,300,000 Americans lived in homes in urban areas located more than a mile from the nearest supermarket. Because many of these Americans are without access to a motor vehicle with which to reach supermarkets located more than a mile away from their homes, along with no accessible local farm production, vast segments of urban areas are now described as ‘‘food deserts’’. The majority of youth in the United States are growing up in environments with little knowledge of natural food production and nutrition and lackbasic survival skills.

The Erie Wire will be following both of these developments in the coming weeks.

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