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Evidence Matters: Winter 2013, Editor’s Note

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Editor’s Note

Vacancy — of both homes and land — was once considered mostly a concern of the nation’s Rust Belt, where decades of population decline left some industrial cities scrambling to protect their remaining residents from the side effects of disinvestment. In the wake of the foreclosure crisis, however, Americans nationwide are finding vacancy a much more immediate and pervasive problem. This issue of Evidence Matters looks at residential and commercial vacancy from various perspectives and examines the work that communities are doing to limit or reverse their negative effects.

The feature article, “Vacant and Abandoned Properties: Turning Liabilities Into Assets,” reviews the causes and consequences of vacancy and investigates the efforts of governments and nonprofits to better understand and alleviate the problem. “Targeting Strategies for Neighborhood Development,” the Research Spotlight article, explores the typologies of neighborhood distress that cities are employing to better understand local conditions and most effectively target limited resources, demonstrating the importance of data in understanding the scope of the problem.

In a break from our usual format, the In Practice section of this issue features two articles, each focusing on different approaches for managing vacant land. The first, “Countywide Land Banks Tackle Vacancy and Blight,” describes the critical role of local land banks in assembling parcels of land and maintaining vacant properties so that the land can eventually be returned to productive use. The second, “Temporary Urbanism: Alternative Approaches to Vacant Land,” examines creative strategies communities and citizens are using to generate short-term uses such as stores, parks, and art projects to bring vibrancy to otherwise blighted spaces.

The two In Practice articles help readers understand the challenges of reusing vacant parcels of land, which requires different considerations than does reusing vacant properties, the primary focus of the lead article and Research Spotlight. Although we touch on the topics throughout the issue, two other forms of American vacancy deserving greater attention — and ripe for further research — are industrial and commercial vacancies. Particularly in areas of the Rust Belt that have faced extensive deindustrialization, industrial vacancy poses special challenges to cities, including the scale of the parcels, the threat of injury to trespassers, and environmental considerations. And anyone who has ever driven through a once-bustling Main Street now dominated by empty storefronts recognizes just how damaging commercial vacancy can be to a neighborhood’s vitality and morale.

I hope this issue of Evidence Matters is enlightening and helps you think about your community in new ways. Our next issue will focus on fair housing. As always, please provide feedback at

— Rachelle Levitt, Director of Research Utilization Division


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The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.