Students gather data on vacant city lots to inspire future use

Aug 24, 2017
Originally published on August 23, 2017 4:24 pm

There are about 2,100 vacant, city-owned lots in Rochester. Three hundred of them are in the Marketview Heights neighborhood alone.

That's where a team of students spent the summer gathering information that can be used to turn some of those abandoned properties into assets for their community.

Students from city high schools and RIT went from lot to lot using phone apps to record specific facts about what they saw.

"Are there trees on the lot?", Said Ann Howard, director of RIT's University/Community Partnership program. "Is there available sun, should there be a garden? Is water available? Is it close enough to walk to transit?” 

The survey is a pilot program that started seven years ago when a vacant lot on First Street was transformed into a children’s garden which provides fresh food to area residents, but urban farming is just one potential use for the empty parcels.

The students who completed the survey this summer are drafting a guidebook that residents can use to create playgrounds, exercise stations, community gathering spots, or space to display public art.

"We're presenting the final version (of the guidebook) to the Marketview Heights Collective Action Project next Tuesday evening at their monthly meeting,” Howard said. “And then we will be talking with them about how they would like to make it available to their neighbors."

Information was also gathered from other cities where vacant property has been repurposed. In Buffalo, for instance, a non-profit community development program acquires land through the city and then makes it available for sale to residents or developers.  Baltimore and Detroit actively encourage urban agriculture.

In Rochester, homes once stood on most of the vacant lots now owned by the city, but they were torn down due to fires or abandonment.