Community Development Strategies

Wed. Jun. 12, 2024

Smart Growth from Abandoned Properties

Smart Growth

Smart Growth is a set of concepts that boils down to this: reduce outward sprawl, and concentrate growth and redevelopment in existing areas, increasing density and utilization. The concept took root in the 1970s. Its chief goals are to plan better, rein in sprawl, redevelop in established urban areas, promote mixed-use growth near transit and in environments that are easy to walk around, and offer a range of housing types that are affordable to different incomes.

Cherokee's renovation of existing properties, usually in urban areas, is in concert with this Smart Growth strategy.

Smart growth seeks to stem the harmful effects of suburban sprawl by encouraging reinvestment in the places people already live. Being anti-sprawl or not being anti-growth. Rather, it advocates a better, fuller use of existing properties, especially those whose deterioration and neglect is now causing the flight that encourages sprawl in the first place.

Reusing these vacant, non-performing assets is critical in our ability to bring about the healthier, distinctive, and equitable communities we all want. Wasting these properties will continue to have a devastating effect our social and economic health and well-being.

According to the Brookings Institution, vacant and abandoned properties occupy about 15 percent of the area of the typical large city, more than 12,000 acres on average. This is usable land already connected to urban infrastructure (like roads and power lines). For metropolitan areas looking to accommodate growth without consuming the surrounding countryside, these properties amount to a large reservoir of land for well-planned development

To view an example of our work, download our brochure Reduce Board-Ups in Your Community

Reusing Abandoned Properties

Everyone agrees that reducing the number of abandoned or otherwise under-performing or non-performing properties in a community is helpful, in every way.

(To learn more about how Board-Ups negatively impact entire communities, not just the immediate owners and neighbors, please see Renovating Board-Ups).

Some forward-thinking communities have gone so far as to develop strategies and plans for identifying such problem properties, and proactively facilitating their rehabilitation.

The ultimate goal of any abandoned property strategy is to reuse properties in ways that improve the neighborhood and the community as a whole. Sound reuse strategies must be based first and foremost on the principle that properties be reused in ways that are both appropriate and sustainable. By combining sound planning with a market-oriented approach, reuse strategies can be developed that are not only appropriate and sustainable, but also achievable.

A municipality's ability to reduce the period a property is abandoned and move it toward reuse depends on its ability either to compel the owner of the property to take appropriate action, or take title to the property and convey it to a third party. A successful abandoned property strategy requires that the city be able to gain physical and legal control of properties. Risk factors including environmental concerns, liability, and the uncertainty of future reuse cannot be ignored, but can be managed through careful planning and program management.

A variety of resources that describe strategies and cases studies regarding the elimination of abandoned properties, and making them perform are offered by the National Vacant Properties Campaign (. The Campaign is a project of Smart Growth America, LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), and others. You can see many of these studies and research reports at