Article 2: Campaign to Take Vacant Land

Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land – Philadelphia.

1) Introduction.
The campaign for the recovery of empty lots in Philadelphia is an initiative that was born as the result of a coalition of communities, associations, labor groups, who came together to pass a law that would grant communities control of vacant lots.

This project was able to discover the potential of solar through citizen initiatives that generate a series of projects to temporarily redefine the use of these underutilized spaces, since their current state leads to increased crime, reduced values property and worsening of the urban image of the city.

This citizens’ initiative gets a transformation of derelict land in a clean and green spaces that get foster social cohesion of the community, creating an identity neighborhood and improving the city’s image.

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2) Description of the context.
In 2000, the estimated population the city of Philadelphia was approximately 1,517,500 inhabitants, in 2010, the estimated population was 1,526,006 inhabitants and currently has approximately 1,747,607 inhabitants.. In 2010 the population density was 4,337.3 people per square kilometer and the average housing density was 1,891.9 per square kilometer.

Within the city of Philadelphia, we find the district Southwest Center city, which occupies approximately 100 hectares and is located south of Philadelphia, is bounded on the north by South Street, on the west by the Schuylkill River and east by Broad Street.

In 2000 the estimated population in the neighborhood was 38,740 inhabitants, in 2005 the estimated population was 37,578 inhabitants and by 2010 the estimated population in the neighborhood was 36,416 inhabitants.

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Population Groups Involved: characteristics.
Currently, the borough population Southwest Center city of Philadelphia has a diverse racial and ethnic composition. 44.3% of residents are African American, 36.6% White, 10% Hispanic and Latino, 6.8% Asian, and the remaining 2.3% from other races. The increase of immigrants was a rejuvenation of the neighborhood population. Require integration into the culture and identity of the neighborhood.

Today is a minority group within the neighborhood, in 2000, 40% of the population was between 50-70 years, while in 2012, this sector makes up 30% of the neighborhood. In 2000 the average age was 40 years while that is currently in 34 years, it is now one of the districts with lower average age of Philadelphia. Elders require spaces and activities for their age.

Children and teenagers.
In 2000 the social group of children and adolescents (0-17 years) comprised 10% of the population of the district, while in 2012, this sector makes up 15% of the neighborhood. They require play areas and leisure and a greater number of recreational activities.

In 2000, the sector of the population of adults (18-50) was 50% of the population of the district, while in 2012, make up 55% of the neighborhood population. Require a neighborhood cohesion and improved public space.

Existing Social Issues and Controversies.
Empty plots: in the city and in the affected neighborhood there was a serious crisis due to the large number of vacant lots and abandoned buildings (over 40,000 citywide, 30,000 privately owned and 10,000 publicly owned) and the number was increasing every year. This situation was affecting the city for 40 years, and that the municipal government had failed to generate a viable strategy to rebuild these properties.

Lack of neighborhood identity: the image transmitting the neighborhood before the operation was abandoned, was a neighborhood that did not allow their neighbors involved in the design and regeneration thereof.

Lack of social cohesion: these properties exacerbate the moral disused residents and neighbors, there is a severe lack of public space and urban elements that generate social cohesion and neighborhood unit.

Lack of urban quality: due to the number of lots and abandoned buildings, the neighborhood features a picture of disinterest, hurting the city’s image and encouraging crime. The maintenance of these solar cost the city $ 20 million annually and adjacent to these solar homes lost between 6.5% and 20% of its initial price.

Unemployment: there was a large number of inhabitants unemployed in working age in the area (20.3%).

Shops, restaurants and cafes: the city’s image was not attractive to future employers that chose not to locate their shops, restaurants and cafes in neighborhoods most affected by the presence of abandoned plots and buildings.

Social value: despite the existence of great cultural diversity in the neighborhood, was not an event that would benefit the neighborhood, due to the social disintegration that existed within the same.

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Agents Involved.
Associations. SOCIAL INTEREST.
As a result of the various controversies that existed in the city and neighborhood (Lots gaps, a lack of identity, social cohesion, urban quality, …) a number of groups and associations that begin to emerge through campaigns try to solve these disputes:

– Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land: is a group formed by the representatives of the associations of the city. They requested a management model to convert and transform the derelict housing and empty plots in affordable housing, green spaces, urban agriculture and new businesses.

– Philly Land Bank: They call for the creation of a land bank, a public authority effectively manage the acquisition, maintenance and sale of vacant properties. It is an institution that would count with simplified procedures for transferring properties to responsible owners to acquire property and debts without jeopardizing its sale to speculators.
They propose a new model for managing properties revolves around the plots available.

– SOSNA: is an association of neighborhood residents seeking to improve urban quality through the active promotion of activities and participation in the neighborhood. They actively participate in the economic development of the district, security, urban planning and the cleaning and care of the common areas.

City Council of Philadelphia. ECONOMIC INTEREST.
The City Council has an economic interest in the recovery and regeneration of the city, since according to studies by these groups, these abandoned properties are reducing the wealth of the city worth $ 3,600 million, which implies a reduction in wealth for each family $ 8,000. In addition to this, the maintenance and security of all these solar assumed for the city spending $ 20 million each year, plus the fact that they are empty representing a loss of $ 70 million each year in taxes lost.

Neighboring communities. SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC INTEREST.
They ask a new model that allows them to improve the current image of the city, creating quality urban spaces and transforming those spaces that damage the city’s image and worsen their quality of life. On the other hand, they also have an economic interest, as these spaces are an economic loss of $ 8,000 per family.

Owners of shops, restaurants and cafes. ECONOMIC INTEREST.
For owners of shops, restaurants and cafes, this new management model means having to go to only one agency to acquire vacant land. This allows a purchase of the land under objective criteria, creating more attractive commercial corridors by removing neglected spaces and attract new customers to the neighborhood.

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3) Chronological description of strategies implemented.

Order of Events.
2010 – Citizens’ Initiatives.
Citizens begin to transform the abandoned city spaces. They propose the reuse of these spaces and assign temporary uses.

2010 – Land Management System.
Over 60% of owners of vacant lots in the city were outstanding pay taxes for over 10 years, in many cases the debt is greater than the price of land, so it removes the incentive for the owner keep or sell property. The city has no tools to acquire most of these properties through tax foreclosure process, due to high transaction costs.

Through the tax foreclosure process, the unused plots can transfered to owners responsible, since the process is considered as a tool to raise revenue, the properties are selected based on marketability.

The department of licenses and inspections of the city does not have the tools or resources to make the owners responsible for the maintenance of their properties.

Most of the 10,000 empty plots that were publicly owned, were being controlled by various organizations in the city, for which the management systems of these plots were outdated. The city had no obligation to ensure redevelopment, since the land was considered an asset to sell higher price.

2011 – Bill.
The Take Back Vacant Land Group, a coalition of Philadelphia community, Faith and labor groups unite to seek approval of a law that allows communities control of vacant lots. It encourages people to submit a list of vacant lots that exist in the city and their proposals.

2012 – Adoption of the new law.
As a result of the bill from the City of Philadelphia the existing legislation is changed, creating a central repository overseen by a board of directors to expedite the transfer of abandoned property. Not exactly what I asked the group, but it is a great achievement in its campaign.

2012 – Call for competition.
Since the group Take Back Vacant Land a series of calls for proposals are called for such solar, many were obtained through the group run.

2012 – Creation of SOSNA.
SOSNA is an association of neighbors through their proposals regulates zoning, economic development, safety and green initiatives in the area of ​​Southwest Center city.


– Reduce poorly maintained properties within the city, facilitating the community to return unused property to collective reuse.
– Make harder the land speculation.
– Creating a home equity available for students and retirement people.
– Reduction of crime.
– Help small businesses by simplifying the process of acquiring land and creating more attractive commercial corridors by reducing abandoned properties.
– Attracting new customers to the neighborhood.
– Increase the viability of neighborhood markets.
– Encouraging more sustainable city, creating a healthier district, encouraging the emergence of urban gardening and agriculture, improving stormwater management and encouraging new land uses (alternative energy, gardening group, …).
– Generating new jobs.

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In some city neighborhoods, this strategy has not worked as well as in this neighborhood or have been problems with maintenance after rehabilitation of the various sites and buildings due. These projects are born as citizens’ initiatives but in case they do not get enough support from government institutions (financial support, involvement, …), may end up failing in places where citizen involvement is not sufficient.

4) Conclusion: why evidence is a case and what we learn.
The aim of the campaign was to transform the image citizens of the city and in particular the neighborhoods most affected by the presence of abandoned properties and the possibility of generating employment and welfare in the neighborhood. With it, it has value to a number of abandoned spaces that create a connected and flexible public space.

Cultural sustainability.
The collective participation of neighborhood associations and neighborhood meetings in each project is a fact.
Neighbors provide their ideas and things while the project progresses.
The various projects were created so that residents have neighborhood meetings, which can be identified collectively and individually.

Associations get away with marginal image featuring abandoned spaces, many of which came to be used as landfill. With this project, a new image more attractive neighborhood is got.


Environmental sustainability.
Is improved environmental sustainability from the following points:
– Increase the quality and quantity of public space.
– It gets better urban morphology by creating new estanciales areas and green spaces.
– Improving the urban metabolism, and the need for low-cost interventions, has the use of recycled materials in most cases.
– Increased complexity by including new uses of public space and space for neighborhood groups.


Economic sustainability.
One of the objectives to be achieved through this campaign and the completion of these projects is to provide employment to the inhabitants of the neighborhood.

To be able to conduct all these projects are handled with the owners of the lots, the necessary permits, free ceded in exchange for the community is responsible for its maintenance did.

All performances of low cost, using in many cases recycled materials.


Social sustainability.
Each proposed project born of citizen participation, each space resulting from a process of dialogue in the community, so that residents are involved in the development of each solar program, plus management of different interventions, holding different associations in each area.

A network of interconnected public urban spaces that meet the needs of local residents is created.



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