Monday, January 4, 2010

The U of M Report to the Land Bank

Adversity to Advantage:
New Vacant Land Uses in Flint
Nathan Geisler, Shana Greenstein, Chuang-Chung Hu, Cisco
Minthorn, Melissa Munsell
Urban and Regional Planning Program, University of Michigan
August 2009

Executive Summary
In the last 40 years, industry, jobs, and people have left Flint, creating a city with thousands of vacant residential lots with a low likelihood of redevelopment.
This project examines how potential new uses might be implemented to use Flint’s increasingly abundant vacant land, focusing on uses only in current residential areas of the city.
The plan addresses potential uses for vacant land in a “focus area,” west of the Buick City industrial stretch in central Flint, which has the highest residential land vacancy rate in the city.
Two smaller pockets of high vacancy east of the Flint River and Buick City
are also included in this focus area.
The uses covered in this plan are: urban agriculture (farming, biofuel crops, tree
nurseries), waste management (deconstruction and composting), natural features enhancements (greenways and trails, expanding green waterfront amenities, and storm water management), and small parks and community gardens.
Stewardship patterns and future vacancy
This plan relied on fieldwork to account for 1) existing stewardship, or the signs that residents are maintaining or beautifying vacant lots, and 2) estimates of future vacancy, by counting the number of dilapidated homes per block that
will soon be demolished to create a new vacant lot.
These counts revealed that:
 The best encouragement for stewardship is the existence of other stewarded lots.
 Future vacancy will reach over 40% per block in many parts of the focus area.
Matching potential uses to Flint’s vacant residential land supply
An examination of the location criteria for potential uses revealed that the uses fall into two broad categories:
 Uses that need large sites (contiguous lots totaling at least one-half acre) and are suitable for highly vacant areas (over 50 percent of lots vacant per block).
 Uses that need small sites (contiguous lots adding up to less than one-half acre) and are suitable for moderately vacant areas (less than 50 percent of lots vacant per block).
This plan examined available vacant land by combining contiguous vacant lots into “sites” and applying use-specific criteria to identify and map optimal locations for each type of use. In addition to the location criteria, implementation
criteria were also identified. The implementation criteria and the number of sites identified for each use are as follows:
Urban farms
 Number of potential sites: 94
 Implementation criteria: Financial viability; strong neighborhood relationships.
Biofuel crops
 Number of potential sites: 281
 Implementation Criteria: Expertise in biofuel crops; demand for product; existence of processing facilities.
Tree nurseries
 Number of potential sites: 56
 Implementation Criteria: Specialized knowledge about growing trees and shrubs.
 Number of potential sites: 38
 Implementation Criteria: Availability of vacant structures to deconstruct; market for salvaged materials.
 Number of potential sites: 35
 Implementation Criteria: Supply of organic materials; demand for compost.
Natural features
 Number of potential sites: 100
 Implementation Criteria: Interest in expanding existing trails.
Community gardens and pocket parks
Number of potential sites: 48
 Implementation Criteria: Resident interest.
Key points
The plan details the broad criteria for implementation of each use, identifies opportunities, discusses potential challenges,
and proposes solutions for Flint that have proved successful in other cities. Specific points include:
 Significant urban agriculture already exists in Flint.
 Urban agriculture generally needs social programming or non-profit support to help launch and sustain activities.
 Urban farms benefit most from clustering sites.
 Potential biofuel crop sites face financial feasibility challenges, as this is a mostly untested urban land use with only
early-stage pilot projects to consider for comparison.
 Deconstruction and composting are not currently supported by the city government
 Deconstruction facilities will rely most on private interest and involvement, while the city government can undertake
composting by adapting Flint’s current yard waste collection programs.
 Opportunities to enhance natural features are plentiful along the Flint River, Flint Park Lake and Thread Lake, due
to high rates of vacancy in these areas. Additionally, vacant land along proposed greenway routes can expand
recreational assets in sections of Flint.
 Pocket parks and community gardens are not appropriate in areas of high vacancy where resident upkeep is likely
to be a challenge. Despite the focus area’s high vacancy rates, some blocks are nearly intact and residents can
support parks or gardens to help stabilize physical conditions and home values in neighborhoods.
Recommendations for assembling sites
The Land Bank can promote new vacant land uses through the following approaches:
 Determine target areas: The Land Bank might capitalize on existing neighborhood strengths by focusing new uses
and revitalization efforts in targeted areas.
 Narrow the use focus: Promote uses efficiently and in a manner that reduces the challenge of holding thousands of vacant properties by narrowing the number of uses the Land Bank encourages (example: put resources towards
launching an urban farm cluster on sites in north-central Flint, rather than implementing multiple uses).
 Strategically acquire lots: Obtain lots proactively, through in-kind trades, property swaps, relocation assistance, or the promotion of stricter code enforcement policies in the city. Further, critically examine requests for side lot
transfers – several potential sites were too small because of past transfers of side lots.
 Rank potential properties for acquisition: Assemble the necessary amount of land to promote uses through a
ranking system that shows strategic parcels. This plan maps Land Bank holdings with three contiguous lots and shows the location of recent foreclosure properties and city-owned land that are contiguous with these Land Bank
properties. Acquiring foreclosure properties and city-owned land adjacent to existing Land Bank holdings increases the viability of new uses, by reaching a half-acre size necessary for many of the uses discussed in this

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