Productive Use: Land Banking and Property in the Shrinking City

Authors: Patrick Oberle*, Syracuse University
Topics: Urban Geography, United States
Keywords: property, shrinking cities, housing
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom B, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


“The primary purpose of the Greater Syracuse Land Bank,” reads the organization’s mission statement, “…is to return vacant, abandoned, underutilized, and tax-delinquent properties to productive use in ways that support the community’s long-range vision for its future.” Beneath this straightforward statement of purpose rests a host of assumptions about, and challenges to, the ways in which property, law, and rights intersect in the planning of cities. Land banks arose as a solution to the problem of tax delinquency and abandonment in Rust Belt cities, framing productivity as a function of tax revenue generation and occupancy as opposed to land use. I use the cases of the land banks in Syracuse, NY, and Cleveland, OH, to expose and analyze the ways in which the collective needs of the city and its residents interact with the rights accorded to private property. By declaring tax delinquent and abandoned property to be both an unproductive use, and a menace to urban life and governance, land banks employ novel changes to tax foreclosure laws to seize such property and sell it to owners willing and able to complete specified rehabilitation work. Navigating the tensions between neighborhood vitality and private property, land banks represent what Andre Gorz referred to as a “non-reformist reform” of property in a neoliberal context, and a means to recognize the role of property ownership as social welfare. Furthermore, as near-governmental non-profits, land banks are an opportunity to rethink the governance of cities and how property remains critical to such an endeavor

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