vacant lot
May 24, 2012

Diane Brossart

Valley Community-Based Project Transforms Vacant Lots

Build it, and they will come: Transforming underutilized, vacant lots throughout Valley communities

Valley communities need to come together and make lemonade! Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when life hands you lemons?

Let’s start by transforming the many underutilized and vacant lots throughout our communities into productive gathering spaces that contribute to our sense of place and beautify our neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, there are a fair number of them out there, due largely to the economic downturn and plight of the construction industry. Fallow lots can be eyesores and negatively impact the physical environment of surrounding neighborhoods. They’re often targets for vandalism and graffiti.

The good news is there’s is enormous potential for these vacant parcels to be developed for a variety of temporary uses, such as urban gardens, farmers’ markets, bicycle parks and community recreational spaces that can improve the livability of existing neighborhoods and help attract new residents.

ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning is developing a student research project to explore the concept of installing temporary uses on vacant fallow lots in the urban cores within the Light Rail Corridors of Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa. This fall, students will work in teams to prepare development/redevelopment scenarios for selected sites, and then present their design concepts to stakeholder groups.

The end goal of the project is to document the process of successfully establishing these types of programs, providing a guide that outlines potential pitfalls, unforeseen roadblocks and other hurdles that a grassroots group or even a property owner might encounter in attempting to install a temporary or permanent amenity. Students will recommend potential solutions to these impediments, as well as case studies of successful implementation.

The city of Phoenix is already galvanizing supporters to activate and transform one vacant lot at a time through a community-based project called, “The Lot – What Should Go Here?”. Its initial focus is on a parcel known as Ro2, located on the northeast corner of 2nd and Roosevelt Streets. Several community events and forums have been held on the site, engaging attendees in helping to determine prospective uses and also outlining ideas for other fallow lots.

Phoenix is also temporary leasing a lot from Barron Collier Companies located on the northeast corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road and plans to activate the 15-acre parcel through partnerships with private and non-profit groups. It’s hoped that the initiative will provide a template for other vacant lots around the Valley and create incentives for private property owners to participate in temporary lot activation projects.

Land owners have a responsibility to do something with their fallow lots — leaving them vacant and unutilized isn’t acceptable. A savvy developer can generate a great deal of good will in the community by allowing appropriate temporary uses.

You know what they say, if you build it they will come, and who wouldn’t want a cold glass of lemonade in this heat anyway?