ESI and Keep America Beautiful, the nation’s leading nonprofit that focuses on helping every community become a clean, green and beautiful place to live, have released their “Charting the Multiple Meanings of Blight: A National Literature Review on Addressing the Community Impacts of Blighted Properties,” the first phase of a new long-term initiative to study, measure and combat blight in communities.

Spearheaded by ESI vice president and principal Lee Huang and with input from the Vacant Properties Research Network (VRPN), a project of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, researchers examined more than 300 academic articles and special policy reports devoted to the concept of blight.

This report provides a contemporary snapshot of how researchers, experts and practitioners describe and understand the complex conditions that create blight and the many policy responses that communities are taking.

“The term ‘blight’ continues to evolve as communities confront different types of blighted properties from littered and vacant lots to foreclosed and abandoned homes,” said Jennifer Jehn, president and CEO of Keep America Beautiful.

“This research will contribute significantly to the understanding of blight, a critical environmental, economic and social issues Keep America Beautiful and its affiliates are strongly positioned to help address in urban, suburban and rural communities nationwide.

“The report will have an even broader impact because it will help us shape the development of measurement tools that will let us better assess and then prepare strategies to combat blight in all its forms at the community level,” concluded Jehn.

The primary authors outlined what recent articles and reports say about blight, how policymakers and community-based organizations can leverage the report’s findings and how Keep America Beautiful and its network of community-based affiliates can build on this report to develop a blight cost calculator for community groups and local governments.

The report concludes with 10 overarching recommendations for policymakers, future research, and potential actions by Keep America Beautiful and its affiliates.

“Blight is a complex legal and policy concept with a long history,” said Metropolitan Institute Senior Fellow Joe Schilling, a report co-author.

“This pioneering synthesis of the literature will help local officials and community-based organizations such as Keep America Beautiful and its affiliates fashion more holistic strategies to address the community impacts of blighted properties and facilitate neighborhood revitalization.”

“What we found in our work is that ‘blight’ looks like and means different things in different settings,” Huang said. “Our review of the existing literature really underscores this point, and has yielded a very rich look at how various communities define and deal with blight.”

While considerable research has examined the history of blight in the United States, its role in national policy and the experience of communities living in blighted neighborhoods, little research has systematically examined the multiple meanings of blight across contexts. This project reviews and synthesizes knowledge about blight, broadly conceived, and draws together academic literature and practitioner reports to systematically assess:

  • The nature of blight
  • The effects of blight
  • The factors that have shaped its development
  • How understandings of blight have changed over time

This ESI-led literature review will benefit policy makers, particularly in understanding how different communities are addressing rising rates of vacancy and how property abandonment has come to be a common characteristic of contemporary blight.

Furthermore, the ESI-led research provides new and beneficial knowledge for local communities and can provide an assessment of blighted neighborhoods for underrepresented groups.

To download and read the report in its entirety, click here.

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

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