Charting the Multiple Meanings of Blight

Econsult Solutions, Inc. (ESI), in collaboration with The Vacant Properties Research Network, a project of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, was selected to conduct a national literature review on blight by Keep America Beautiful, the leading national nonprofit that envisions a country where every community is a clean, green and beautiful place to live.

This report examines more than 300 academic articles, as well as special policy and practitioner reports devoted to the concept of blight. It also provides a contemporary snapshot of how researchers, experts and practitioners describe and understand the complex conditions that create blight and the policy responses that communities are taking.

Research identified in this report documents the community impacts that blighted properties generate, particularly on the value of adjacent properties. Some of those impacts include:

  • Vacant properties cost city governments $5,000 to $35,000 per property.
  • Foreclosed homes can lead to an average increase of 1 percent in neighborhood crime.
  • Vacant dwellings have higher risks of fires in urban areas.
  • Residents in blighted neighborhoods have greater exposure to public health and environmental risks.
  • Low-income neighborhoods are more vulnerable to increases in property abandonment.

The report delineates what blight really means. Blight is the physical changes of properties that cause harmful impacts on the life cycle of neighborhoods and their residents. Among other findings about blight:

  • Blight is a complex and dynamic phenomenon with different meanings and actions shaped by a variety of actors and institutions.
  • Blighted properties also shift with the times and the place. While most of the articles and reports focused on urban blight, deteriorating properties are now a challenge for suburban and rural areas thanks in part to increasing concentrations of foreclosed homes and the spatial diffusion of poverty.
  • Blight is a symptom of larger social and social forces, such as poverty, and includes a wide variety of actions primarily led by local governments and community-based groups

The report concludes with a series of recommendations for Keep America Beautiful and its community-based affiliates and practical actions local governments and community leaders can take. Some of those recommendations include:

  • Organize blighted/vacant properties working groups: Convene a cross section of public, private and nonprofit leaders to develop more comprehensive and coordinated responses to blight, including changes in state and local laws.
  • Explore urban greening opportunities (gardening, urban agriculture, green infrastructure, etc.) to address vacant lots and blighted land.
  • Publish a problem properties toolkit: Have a guide that explains how communities can take action with vacant and blighted properties.

With a better understanding of blight thanks to this report, Keep America Beautiful will work in conjunction with ESI to develop new tools and resources to better measure the many impacts of blight.

To download and read the report in its entirety, click the link to the right.

For more on this report, click here.

For more information from Keep America Beautiful’s website, click here.

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