Planning decision for vacant lots in the context of shrinking cities : a survey and comparison of practices in the United States




Hollstein, Leah Marie

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Planning theory and practice in the United States has been dominated by a paradigm of growth; however, since the 1980s, many cities have faced prolonged population decline, prompting questions about how shrinkage is engaged as planners attempt to provide for health, safety, and welfare. This investigation surveys and compares lines of thought being used to make decisions regarding these properties, with particular emphasis on planners located within cities having dissimilar experiences of “shrinking.” Principally, it is focused on vacant and abandoned lots, which are the most immediately visible symptom of population decline and offer the greatest opportunity to reimagine urban form-and-function relationships. The investigation begins with a literature review of the causes and effects of shrinking as well as an investigation into historical research and contemporary thought on vacant land in the United States. Current reasoning supporting decisions about vacant and abandoned lots is identified through a national survey of planning professionals in fifteen cities with either stable-to-growing or shrinking populations. These are augmented by selected follow-up interviews. Both stratified sampling and matching were used to achieve a range of city characteristics and control for them across growth orientation. This approach is new in that while case studies of one or two shrinking cities have been undertaken, there has not been a national survey focused on shrinking cities and vacancy. The goal is to understand regional trends, tools, and obstacles to progress. The results indicate a range in which methods and techniques predicated on the dominant and normative growth paradigm have been both adopted or adapted for use in shrinking cities. Results suggest that concepts regarding quality of life, intentions for the future, and community goals have been reprioritized and redefined in shrinking cities. Finally, results indicate ways in which ideas regarding the built environment and the discontinuities of the urban fabric are being reconceptualized in the face of massive economic and demographic upheaval.



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