Recent work here at the Urban Initiative leaves us once again reflecting on the strong links between the social and economic conditions of Fall River and New Bedford and their physical condition: like communities in cities across the country, decline is physically manifested in vacant and abandoned lots, absent or unruly green spaces, and housing in disrepair. Housing stocks, primarily in particularly blighted neighborhoods, are estimated to be between 9-12% vacant, significantly higher than the state average of 6.8%.
An article released by the Standard Times today, Historical Commission wrestles with demolition recommendations, discusses the current dilemma between the City of New Bedford’s efforts to address decaying properties and the desire of city residents to have a seat at the table for discussions regarding how land should be used in their neighborhoods and communities.
The article goes into detail about the City’s recommendation to tear down eight derelict properties that have been an eyesore (not to mention unsafe) for several years now. Few would argue with the City’s attempts to address these issues; however, the opposition, consisting of city residents and members of the Historical Commission, are arguing for a clear explanation of what will happen to the land after demolition, and where appropriate, it appears they’d like to have a say in the planning process.
In my view, the City, its residents, and key stakeholders in the community are working towards a common goal, however, until collaborative efforts are made, these goals will be difficult to accomplish. With that said, I also believe the future is bright, as there are several models through which partnerships can develop to revitalize vacant and deteriorating urban parcels. The Urban Initiative has recently begun investigating the use of Community Land Trusts (CLTs) to answer these challenges. CLTs in Massachusetts and beyond have empowered community members to manage and make decisions about land in their own neighborhoods, ensuring that its use is appropriate for the needs and future of those living there.
The idea of using a CLT model to address land-based challenges in the region’s cities has begun to circulate among a few key organizations and community groups, but there are several information gaps that need to be filled before a CLT could be feasibly and sustainably implemented. The Urban Initiative is currently seeking funding to complete an information-based assessment describing the landscape of vacant and abandoned parcels in Fall River and New Bedford. The assessment would also specifically analyze if and how a CLT model should be applied in these SouthCoast cities. The aim and design of the report will be centered on promoting conversation in communities wanting to have a say in the way land is being used in their neighborhoods. Conversations should, in turn, translate into well-defined partnerships from which community members and stakeholders may strategically align their resources to develop and grow CLTs, or similar models, with specific purposes.
If you have ideas about helping us move this project forward, or simply want to learn more about our proposal, feel free to contact us!