Vacant Land Reclamation

Restoring our neighborhoods


Northeast Ohio has an overabundance of vacant land due to population decline over several decades and subsequent demolition of abandoned buildings. Unmanaged vacant land poses a problem for urban communities because of its association with crime, poverty, and poor human health. Regular mowing and cleaning of vacant lots can greatly reduce these negative effects on neighborhoods, but at a high annual cost to taxpayers.

Neighborhood stabilization can reduce negative social and economic impacts of vacancy by beautifying vacant land, improving property values, and providing safe green space for communities. Stabilization also has the potential to improve our environment by providing services like stormwater management, air filtration, and reduction of urban heat island effect.

In 2010–2011, with support from the Lake Erie Protection Fund, Cleveland Botanical Garden pilot tested low-cost, low-maintenance stabilization treatments for vacant land. We examined combinations of 3 soil treatments and 2 types of low-maintenance lawns in the Buckeye-Woodland neighborhood of Cleveland, which has seen a 60% population decline within in the past 60 years. Our treatment included phosphate soil amendments to reduce soil lead toxicity by 30–50%; organic matter to correct soil nutrient deficiencies; and low-maintenance lawn and landscape plants to reduce maintenance requirements.

The next phase of our stabilization research began in July 2012 with funding from the US EPA Urban Waters small grant program. We are looking to improve soil nutrient balance and water infiltration of vacant lot soils through the addition of reclaimed soil and organic matter. We will also continue testing low-maintenance lawn mixes and landscape plants that can be recommended for use in northeastern Ohio.

Further reading

LEPF final report 

US EPA Urban Waters

Our research partners

Dr. Nicholas Basta, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University

Cuyahoga Land Bank