Terra Incognita

Vacant Land and Urban Strategies

Ann O’M. Bowman and Michael A. Pagano

"Terra Incognita is in many ways the ideal kind of planning book. It's brief; it deals with an important but little-examined aspect of urban life; and it suggests practical ways to improve it."
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Boon or blight? Ann Bowman and Michael Pagano define "vacant land" broadly, to include everything from brownfields (environmentally contaminated land) through trashed lots and abandoned buildings to greenspace (parks, community gardens, etc.). Terra Incognita takes a fresh look at what they believe can be the ultimate urban resource. Beyond the common studies of the influence of market forces, it explores how these areas are affected by the decisions of local governments, and then shows how vacant land can be a valuable strategic asset for localities.

Terra Incognita derives from what—until now—has been the lack of substantial information about the amount and the diversity of urban vacant land. This book is based on an unprecedented survey sent to all U.S. towns with a population greater than 50,000, and contains data previously unavailable. Three cities were studied in greater depth for detailed case studies: the greater Phoenix and Seattle areas and Philadelphia-Camden. A number of other cities are cited frequently, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma City, among many others.

Identifying the fiscal, social, and development imperatives that drive the decisions local officials make about using vacant land, Bowman and Pagano pay particular attention to the varying dynamics of sales, property, and income taxes, and conclude with a model for making strategic decisions about land use based on a city's priorities.

Table of Contents

1. The Different Contexts of Vacant Urban Land
Vacant Land: Negative and Positive
Defining Vacant Land
Describing Vacant Land in U.S. Cities
Context Matters: Vacant Land in Three Metropolitan Areas

2. Cities and Vacant Land: Data and a Model
The Amount of Vacant Land in U.S. Cities
Terra Incognita: Understanding City Actions
The Three Imperatives and Vacant Land

3. City Policymaking: Exploring the Land-Tax Dynamic
Constraints and Opportunities of General Taxing Authority
The Strategic Behavior of Property Tax Cities
The Strategic Behavior of Sales Tax Cities
The Strategic Behavior of Income Tax Cities
Reflections on the Land-Tax Dynamic

4. The Social Value of Vacant Land
Mental Maps
Infilling as a Social Strategy
Vacant Land as Open Space

5. The Development Potential of Vacant Land
Economic Development in Metropolitan Areas
Capturing Land
Recapturing and Recycling Vacant Land
Constraining Land Use

6. Strategic Uses of Vacant Land
A Spatial Mode of Vacant Land
Putting Vacant Land to Use
Approaches to Reusing Vacant Land
Strategic Thinking and Vacant Land

Appendix A: Methodology

Appendix B: Demographic, Economic, and Political Data for the Three Site-Visit Metropolitan Areas

Appendix C: Data on Vacant Land and Abandoned Structures from the Survey and Data on Population and Area from the Census




"Terra Incognita is in many ways the ideal kind of planning book. It's brief; it deals with an important but little-examined aspect of urban life; and it suggests practical ways to improve it."—Planning

"An absolutely first-rate piece of work . . . presents a powerful but easily comprehensible model for understanding the complex strategic interactions of land development possibilities, alternative sources of tax revenue, and urban political economy."—Evan McKenzie, associate professor of political science, University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Ann O'M. Bowman is professor and Hazel Davis and Robert Kennedy Endowed Chair in Government and Public Service, the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University and coauthor of State and Local Government: The Essentials.

Michael A. Pagano is director of the graduate program in public administration, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and coauthor with Ann Bowman of Cityscapes and Capital: The Politics of Urban Development.

248 pp., 6 x 9

Apr 2004

248 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-007-9
Apr 2004

248 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-421-3
Apr 2004

American Governance and Public Policy series
Gerard W. Boychuk, Karen Mossberger, and Mark C. Rom, Series Editors

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