Monday, July 6, 2009

Interim Vacancy

Ever have one of those moments when you read, virtually word-for-word and idea-for-idea about an urban issue that you've been mulling and kicking around in your brain for some time. The idea of vacant land is predominant everywhere in varying levels, but offers potential for future development as well as valuable real estate that often sits unused, contributing little to our cities behind fencing and covered with weeds.

:: image via SF Gate

The recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle urban design writer John King looks into the downturn in development and the remnant vacant lots left over until sites are developed in his article "High-rises on hold: What to do with empty lots?"

"The high-rise boom has gone quiet, and a new challenge faces San Francisco: deciding what to do with land cleared for towers that may not rise for another decade - if at all. At least a dozen large development sites in the city's South of Market district now sit empty or covered by asphalt because of the recession. If history is any guide, developers will either leave them fenced off or use them as parking lots."

:: image via SF Gate

The idea of interim use is powerful - and only limited by the duration of time between today and eventual development, and of course, our imaginations: "Some could be landscaped with fast-growing trees and shrubs that offer environmental benefits. Others could display art or offer casual spots for social interaction. There are no clear models to follow: Any initiative must be acceptable to landowners, with details worked out in advance regarding such issues as maintenance and security. Done well, though, the payoff could far exceed the cost - creating short-term showcases rather than blight that drags its neighbors down."

:: image via SF Gate

Another powerful idea (aside from use and productivity) is to use this interim period to be more proactive - going even further in using selected phytoremediation techniques to both beautify and clean existing pollution hot spots - reducing overall cost of cleanup down the road and resulting in less toxic materials hauled off of site. Each site will have a unique set of opportunities and constraints, so there isn't a silver bullet - but a unique set of typologies could be generated that would be applicable (and adaptable) to the most common scenarios. Think on it.

Read the rest of the article in full here.


  1. I really like your idea of bioremediation as an interim use!

  2. Caution! As I posted a couple days ago, you can bet that developers will have a natural inclination to ensure the interim parks aren't too nice - too scenic - too visionary. They could backfire, with the developer suddenly facing opposition when they finally want to put up a building... For the rest of us, of course, this is a great problem to have.


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