With thousands of acres of vacant land and even more vacant and blighted buildings eligible for demolition, it is apparent that vacancy in Cincinnati is not going away anytime soon. For whatever reasons the vacancy occurs, the fact remains, the city will need to address the consequences that ensue. Perpetual vacancy along a street can lead to an increase in litter, blight, and crime. Surrounding properties are plagued with lowered property values and the cycle continues. A general feeling of hopelessness can quickly affect adjacent residents and even an entire neighborhood.

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful is an award-winning nonprofit focused on educating and encouraging individuals to take responsibility for their communities. We promote beautification, litter prevention, recycling, and community pride and provide resources to communities that empower them to improve their neighborhoods. Keep Cincinnati Beautiful began addressing vacancy in 2009 with the creation of the Future Blooms program. Born out of the City’s Neighborhood Enhancement Program, Future Blooms is a low-cost, high-impact program that addresses vacancy, blight, and graffiti through the revitalization of abandoned properties as a way to reinforce economic development and create a sense of place. For three years, the Future Blooms program has been artistically enhancing vacant buildings and revitalizing vacant lots through cleaning and greening practices. The goal is to create places that encourage caring. In 2012, the City of Cincinnati received funding from the State of Ohio to increase demolition rates throughout the city addressing buildings that were vacant and chronically neglected, in an effort to help mend some of the consequences of vacancy in neighborhoods. The City recognized that exchanging a vacant and neglected building for a vacant and neglected lot was not an improvement, and asked the Future Blooms program to revitalize at least 200 of the sites.

With such an increase in vacant lot stabilization, Future Blooms reached out to the University of Cincinnati’s Horticulture and Architecture programs to help develop comprehensive strategies for how to deal with vacant land throughout the city. Thirty students from planning, architecture, and horticulture, participated in a weekend long workshop where they researched the City’s current practices of vacant lot care and looked at case studies of other cities’ vacant land practices. Seven neighborhoods were chosen as study samples for the purpose of the workshop.

This guide book was created by the students and faculty that participated in the workshop. It recognizes the broad spectrum of influence vacant land throughout the city has, by dividing the book into five sections: city planning, site conditions, creating a sense of place, plant material, and community engagement. The Vacant Lots: Occupied guide book is meant to be a tool for communities and organizations to use when dealing with vacant land in their neighborhoods. It is a compilation of suggestions from the students and faculty who took part in the workshop, and by no means represents a comprehensive overview of vacant lot issues in the city. It is also the intention of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful and the University of Cincinnati to build upon the work that has been presented, test the ideas in the real world, and work with communities and experts to produce a comprehensive guide book of best practices when dealing with vacant land.

Rather than becoming a source of continual blight and community degradation, vacant lots, when properly cared for, have the potential to become parks, gardens, stormwater management features, and community spaces. These investments create a sense of intent, alerting others to the fact that someone cares, crafting a new narrative – one of purpose and hope for the future. Vacant lot management should be approached on a site-to-site basis within the framework of a neighborhood and city-wide vision. Understanding the neighborhood context, including social, economic, and environmental factors, can inform an appropriate course of action for a neighborhood.

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful hopes this guide book will be utilized by community organizations throughout the city to help them navigate ways to deal with abandoned and neglected vacant lots. Each vacant lot allows for reinvention, creativity, and creation. We hope you find this book helpful and that it leaves you feeling inspired to pursue changing the face of vacant lots in the city.