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How Should Vacant Lots Be Repurposed?

Councilor Campbell survey results on vacant lots

Filling the Void

Boston Council President Andrea Campbell asked her District 4 constituents how they would like to fill vacant and abandoned properties in their area. Currently, the highest concentration of vacant lots are located in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury, neighboring communities in Boston.  Empty lots can create neighborhood issues, such as blight and health concerns. In this survey, residents of District 4 expressed their desires and concerns for the empty lots. 

Divided Support 

418 residents responded to the poll and 116 comments were contributed. 27% of constituents voted for a community green space, 8% voted for public art and 7% for commercial space. With the majority, 36% of constituents voted for housing. 

Although housing obtained the majority of the votes, many people expressed concerns with what kind of housing would be built. Several commenters emphasized the need for affordable or subsidized homes, specifically houses rather than condos or apartments: “I worry about dense development in neighborhoods that make fancy condos that aren't affordable and just make developers rich while Dorchester gentrified,” said one concerned respondent. Other housing suggestions were for the re-establishment of rent control and updating older infrastructure. 

Councilor Campbell survey results on vacant lots

It was not only housing that was important to respondents. A large portion of comments addressed both community gardens and green spaces. There was a general consensus among those who responded that it should be a multifunctional and intergenerational space. A space for children to play, residents to grow personal produce and the whole neighborhood to enjoy. Most respondents believed that this space would create a healthier environment in the community. 

Public art and commercial space received the least amount of votes. Those who supported displays of public art for these empty lots expressed that it would connect the neighborhood and inspire residents. Those who wanted a commercial space to fill in the lots stated that they would like healthier eateries and businesses that would add value to the neighborhood. 

A National Trend

Vacant lots have created issues throughout the country, particularly as foreclosed properties increased in the late 2000’s. Hyper-vacancy has plagued the country creating blight and fiscal strains on many neighborhoods. Many affected cities have attempted to solve the problem of hyper-vacancy; however, it has proven to be costly. Some solutions include the creation of green spaces, pocket parks, urban farms and community gardens for leaders like Councilor Campbell, addressing the issue head-on to improve living standards.

Following the survey, Councilor Campbell organized a community event for local residents, urban planners, activists, elected officials and entrepreneurs to collaborate on ideas for activating vacant lots in District 4. “Big, big thank you to Involved for helping us gather data that informed our teams on what the community wants to see in their neighborhoods," Councilor Andrea Campbell shared at the event.

Salma El Agizy