Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Vacancy and Dilapidation: Part 1

Throughout the city of Philadelphia, as with many east coast cities, there is a large problem with vacant lots and dilapidated buildings.   One of my first times in Philadelphia was to do a walk through of a neighborhood just east of Center City called Point Breeze.   When you are walking the streets of Point Breeze, you can literally look down any road to the West and see a distinct line dividing the glamor of Center City’s high rises and condominiums from Point Breeze’s old row homes mingled with corner stores and vacant lots.   

The distinct lines of urban neighborhoods have always fascinated me, because there are two worlds bordering each other but few will pass between the two.  

A 2010 article in Philadelphia Weekly reports that there were about 40,000 vacant lots spread throughout the city (Kase, 2010).  There are many problems associated with vacant and abandon properties including declining property values in surrounding communities, loss of money to the city in unpaid taxes, neighborhood safety, illegal dumping, and overall neighborhood blight. 

What has caused all of these vacancies?  Some contributors have been the change from an industrial to more technologically driven society.   Once more mechanic methods of industry and practices such as outsourcing took over, bustling centers of business became haunts, reminding many of “what used to be.” Also, rising costs of home ownership, declining property values, and rising foreclosure rates have contributed to this problem.  As more people are unable to keep up with the rising costs of energy, taxes, insurance and repair, they are either forced out or abandon ship.  Of the 40,000, about 12,000 properties are reported as being public owned, mostly as the result of foreclosure, I’d assume (Kase, 2010).  Combine all these industrial and economic changes, and you are left with a literal mess in cities like Philadelphia.

Shot of vacant lot in Lucas' article
One woman reported to a Philly.com reporter that she has been living next to a condemned building for four years; the property has an overgrown back yard with a hole into the vacant home, which draws in drug users, children playing, and vermin like rats and roaches (Lucas, 2011).  Needless to say this is both a public health and safety hazard for community members, especially children.  Unfortunately, lots such as these contribute to a lack of city pride across Philadelphia, and Lucas’ article goes on to quote a resident that says neighbors and city agencies, “Just don’t care” (Lucas, 2011).   The interesting question is, “Do they not care, or have they given up hope?”   It is easy to understand why they feel hopeless, when they look around at land forgotten and abused. 

 Lucas, Phillip. "Marquis of Debris: They're Sick of These Dumps." Featured Articles from Philly.com. Philly.com, 18 Aug. 2011. Web. 30 Aug. 2011. <http://articles.philly.com/2011-08-18/news/29900900_1_trash-pit-neighbors-drug-addicts>.

Kase, Aaron. "The Ugly Truth About Philly's Vacant Lots | News and Opinion | Philadelphia Weekly." Philadelphia Weekly | Local News, Reviews, Multimedia, Music, Real Estate and More. Philadelphia Weekly, 16 Nov. 2010. Web. 30 Aug. 2011. <http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/The-Ugly-Truth-About-Phillys-Vacant-Lots.html>.

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