Adopt-a-Vacant-Lot Toolkits

Cities can enlist citizens, companies and non-profit groups to adopt, manage or put vacant lots to community uses such as gardens, stormwater management and playgrounds.

Benefits & Problems Addressed

Put vacant or unused lots as a community asset: Setting up a program with recommendations helps put underused and derelict property to use as a community point of pride.

Short term leases easier to manage than ownership transfers: Leasing space requires fewer legal steps than all out transfer of ownership.

Wider use for any vacant lot:  Steps in a toolkit can also be used as a resource for projects on other public and privately owned land, 

Tips & Techniques

Getting started: Start with maps of vacant lots to determine the extent and location of lots. Work with citizens to prioritize goals for a program and the best uses base on location. For example, vacant lots in floodprone areas might be best re-used for rain gardens.

Process: Establish clear, easy-to-follow steps (see flow chart below). At a minimum notify adjacent neighbors. 

Pre-Approval: Cities may want to streamline permitting for simple, common uses, and/or clear sites that pass soil tests.

Managing Uses: Different uses require different processes.  For example, any food grown requires soil testing for urban contaminants. If growing food, pre-think how food distributed (own use, donations, for sale). 

Co-programming with other Departments: For rain gardens, check with Public Works or Stormwater to see if they have rules and/or performance standards to qualify for regulatory credits. Consider sites for public art (installations & programs). Partner with Master Gardeners and local landscape architects for help with site design.

Hot Buttons: Insurance requirements, unexpected property sale, animal-keeping, noise from community activity.


Vacant Lot Toolkit + Lots to Love website: Pittsburgh, PA US

Image: Flickt/Mark Hogan