Land Policy Institute sr. associate director, Mark Wyckoff, traveled to Volos, Greece, for the 9th International Planning Law and Property Rights Conference on Feb. 25-27, 2015.
March 19, 2015
LPI’s Wyckoff shared expertise on legal issues for future open space uses in legacy cities at the International Planning Law and Property Rights Conference in Greece
Land Policy Institute sr. associate director, Mark Wyckoff, traveled to Volos, Greece, for the 9th International Planning Law and Property Rights Conference on Feb. 25-27, 2015. About 100 academics made presentations at the conference. This is the second time Wyckoff has presented at this conference. The first time was in February 2010 in Aaborg, Denmark.
Wyckoff presented on work he has been engaged in with Richard Norton, PhD, from the University of Michigan, and Gerald Fisher, a law professor at Cooley Law School, in conjunction with the staff of the Detroit Future City (DFC) and other planners and attorneys the DFC has periodically involved to advise them. Wyckoff focused his presentation on legal challenges that vacant land presents in legacy cities that want to reuse the land for various open space uses at some point in the future.
The term “legacy cities” refers to cities that are largely located East of the Mississippi, and are typically characterized by declining populations, significant unemployment, declining average family incomes, and have many blighted and abandoned properties. [See the American Assembly website on Legacy City Design for maps and data documenting conditions in legacy cities.] The economies in most legacy cities were formerly based on heavy manufacturing. However, the global New Economy has shifted to high technology and specialized services, and requires well-trained workers (and far fewer of them), to produce new products and services. This has resulted in many legacy city workers that have job skills that do not match up well with New Economy employment opportunities.
Some of the most impacted legacy cities, like Detroit, have large amounts of vacant land. The easy questions relate to what to do with growing amounts of vacant land. Studies like the Detroit Future City Strategic Framework produced by DFC, provide a compelling new vision of urban farms, energy production, improved stormwater management, new parks, trails and other public and private open spaces that together would make for a more sustainable city as it redevelops:.
The hard questions relate to how to accomplish the vision in light of American constitutional, statutory and common law that have strong built-in protections for private property rights. The challenges occur because the pattern produced by building abandonment and land vacancy appear to be random and rarely result in large numbers of contiguous lots becoming vacant in a short period of time. Instead, neighborhoods “thin out” slowly, and even if there is only one public entity responsible for “collecting” and “holding” the vacant land, it may take decades before enough contiguous lots are aggregated under single ownership to permit efficient reuse.
Legal issues involve clear title on the vacant land, and ensuring that the rights of owners and residents of occupied lots nearby are respected as public, private and nonprofit entities conceive and move forward with future reuse plans. Legal issues include a large number of real estate, zoning and due process questions, as well as potential takings questions in some cases.
A formal paper for publication is under development based on feedback from conference participants.