Independent Coalition for Our Neighborhoods

Creating Inner City Suburbs: Blots

Read about the process of “blotting” – homeowners taking possession of adjacent abandoned property to expand small city lots into suburb-sized “blots”.

Enterprising homeowners are changing the landscape in many depopulated cities, bringing the look of spacious suburbs to abandoned urban neighborhoods.  For less than the cost of an airplane ticket, in some instances, owners can acquire lots next door to create their own oasis, complete with pools, courtyards or even orchards. Cities, meanwhile, are spared the upkeep of these properties.  “I think it’s a good strategy” for our 60,000 vacant lots, says Marja Winters, deputy director of Detroit’s Planning and Development Department. “In a lot of them, there’s no interest, so why not put them in the hands of citizens that are going to own it and care for it?”

This type of side-yard expansion, once expensive and time-consuming, has taken off in recent years as cities have foreclosed on abandoned properties, putting them in a land bank to be sold to interested parties.

How blotting works
The process of acquiring vacant lots around an owner’s property is different in every city and can take anywhere from 90 days to nine months, depending on the process and approvals necessary.  Owners, in most cases, must demonstrate ownership of their own property and prove that it is up to code and that they have the means to maintain it. They also must inform the city of their plans for the lot they wish to acquire. Many cities require these lots to be fenced in, and some will provide fencing material.

What does a blot look like?
These blots run the gamut from two small lots to four or five, and can take up most of a city block.  For some, the extra space has provided a place to put in a wheelchair ramp or a raised garden bed, or allowed for the planting of trees for privacy. Others have prompted large additions such as a new wing or a move to change the orientation of the house to face away from the street and to a central garden.

The problem with blots
Of course, larger lots don’t solve the problems that some of these emptied-out neighborhoods have with crime, and they can’t replace prime amenities, parks or good schools.  Gethers, who moved to the neighborhood in the early 1990s when every house was occupied, still doesn’t like having a vacant house across the street and empty lots next to her, but she says so far there has been no vandalism or vagrants.  “We would really love to have neighbors” move in there, she says.  Without much oversight from the city or neighborhood groups, some side-yard expansions have wound up as car parks or places for people to store their junk, Dewar says.

Changing the urban footprint?
It remains to be seen just how much of an impact blotting will have on the urban landscape in cities such as Detroit, Cleveland and New Orleans. Right now, these big lots make up just a small fraction of the tens of thousands of vacant lots the cities own in these areas. Many blighted sections of these cities are so filled with apartments and renters that there’s not enough vacant land, or non-landlord owners, to create blots.  Time will tell just how much blots bring up property values in the areas where this expansion has been allowed. Harris looks at it this way: “You can actually sell a house now on this street.”

Read the full story by Melinda Fulmer of MSN Real Estate

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Read the full story on MSN Real Estate…