When the real estate bubble burst, it left millions of homes and businesses underwater. Baltimore is no stranger to this phenomenon: over 20,000 homes have been foreclosed upon in the last five years.
With communities across the country still feeling the effects of the foreclosures and lost jobs, a new study is showing how we can make the best of a bad situation. The Red Fields to Green Fields research effort is attempting to document the effects of taking “red fields”, properties with zero or negative property value, and turning them into “green fields”, public or quasi-public green spaces.
So far the study has taken a look at six cities: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Miami, Denver and Wilmington, DE. Each city has its own unique issues but each sees red field to green field conversion as an opportunity and each has something in common with Baltimore.
Atlanta has one of the lowest parkland acreage to population ratios of any large city in the U.S. and hopes to change that by converting 2,850 acres of vacant land inside I-285 into parks. Meanwhile, in suburban Atlanta, 13,000 acres of available land will be removed from the market to create green space, strengthening the real estate market and communities.
Cleveland is focusing some of its efforts on improving water quality. Cleveland’s red field plans involve taking some formerly occupied land and using it to implement neighborhood-scale solutions such as a small wetland or park. Proposals also recommend increasing the amount of vegetation along stream corridors draining into Lake Erie.
Denver and Miami are putting a lot of effort and money into creating parks near proposed and existing rail stations. It seems that governments have realized that, in order for Transit Oriented Development (TOD) to be successful, new development must have access to parkland as well as transit.
Miami, on the other hand, sees Transit Oriented Parks as potential centers for new neighborhoods and as a way to increase transit ridership by making the area around the station more livable.
Philadelphia is taking a look at the inequity in available green space. Some neighborhoods have access to wonderful parks while others are entirely without access. Many of the areas without access to parks are also areas with an excess of vacant land.
Wilmington has perhaps the most interesting and relevant proposals. The city is faced with neighborhoods facing shortages of green space and large scale abandonment and vacancy problems. Each of these issues contributes to a cycle of disinvestment and a continued decrease in property values (sound familiar, Baltimoreans?). Wilmington intends to remove blighted and vacant properties from the real estate market and, more importantly, the neighborhood. By converting these properties into “pocket parks”, the neighborhoods would, ideally, begin to stabilize themselves.
Perhaps what’s most intriguing about Wilmington’s plan is its small scale and neighborhood-level impact. Wilmington’s approach is only estimated to cost about $22 million; the other proposals, however, are estimated to cost over $1 billion and some will cost much more than that. Baltimore is not a city rolling in cash and, therefore, the small solutions may work best here. That said, there’s something Baltimore can learn from each of the proposals above.
1.) From Atlanta – a row house does not need to remain a row house. Analysis of the supply and demand in a neighborhood would likely show the need for more demolition and open space conversion.
2.) From Cleveland – converting small parcels into natural areas can make a difference in water quality. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor suffers from terrible water quality while the City has an overabundance of vacant properties, there’s a solution in the making here.
3.) From Denver – transit isn’t everything to TOD. Developments planned around Baltimore’s proposed Red Line must have access to parks as well as transit.
4.) From Miami – surrounding transit centers with parkland can be a great way of reinforcing a neighborhood’s center and increasing transit ridership. Creating nodes where transit and parkland intersect could create vibrant neighborhoods.
5.) From Philadelphia – equal access to green space is more important than having more or larger parks. Greenways and small open spaces are great ways to ensure that everyone has access to a park.
6.) From Wilmington – low cost, neighborhood level solutions can be an effective revitalization technique. Sometimes the large-scale solutions intimidate Baltimore. Well, sometimes a small park in the right place can change a whole block. Put it on a corner, and it could change two blocks. Baltimore should make the most of its vacant properties and use them as instruments for neighborhood revitalization.