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Tuesday, April 10 • 11:30am - 11:45am
SYMPOSIA-10: Clean and Green: Vacant Lot Stewardship and the Creation of New Natures in Chicago

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AUTHORS: Paul H. Gobster, US Forest Service; William P. Stewart, Carena J. van Riper, Douglas A. Williams, Alessandro Rigolon – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

ABSTRACT: A growing academic and planning literature has identified vacant lot restoration as an important area of opportunity to increase biodiversity and other ecosystem services. While ecological goals should be part of an overall strategy for urban revitalization, they must be integrated with the personal goals of residents who live in neighborhoods with high vacancy rates. We studied the perceptions and stewardship activities of residents who purchased city-owned vacant lots for $1 under the inaugural offering of the City of Chicago’s Large Lot Program using a mixed-methods approach that included systematic observation of environmental conditions via aerial and street-level photography, coupled with a mail survey and focus groups of lot owners. We found considerable evidence that greening was a primary component of vacant lot stewardship but little support for intentional activities to achieve ecological goals. Results point to an overall reduction in tree canopy with residents often removing trees off lots because they were seen as hazardous, overgrown, or in the wrong place. The few times lot owners mentioned wildlife was in negative contexts associated with overgrown vegetation that attracts unwanted rodents, raccoons and opossums. On the positive side, gardening was observed and reported as a desirable activity, and overall yard and turf management aimed for an aesthetic that emphasized vegetation that was neat, clean, beautiful and functional. Our findings suggest that biodiversity and ecological goals must be compatible with social preferences in order to be considered part of vacant lot stewardship. Vacant lot programs that integrate social and ecological factors could help create mutually beneficial new natures that depart from traditional, single-track solutions. Two mutually compatible strategies are suggested: (1) develop ecological goals for revitalization that embrace a range of residential preferences, and (2) develop educational outreach programs related to ecological goals and provide resources for their implementation.

Tuesday April 10, 2018 11:30am - 11:45am CDT
Hancock Parlor