Although many parts of our world are experiencing rapid urban growth, economic decline and the recent foreclosure crisis have resulted in population decline within several United States cities including Cleveland, OH. These conditions have transformed the landscape to include a significant amount of vacant land. Cleveland currently contains 20,000 vacant parcels totaling 14 km2 and approximately 1,000 additional foreclosed structures are being demolished annually.
Vacant land represents a management challenge, but it may also be an opportunity. Currently we are losing biodiversity worldwide at a rapid pace. When most people think about conservation they picture large-scale preservation of fragile habitats. Although critical, this is far from the only conservation effort that can make a difference. Currently, vacant land is often ignored in conservation planning, yet studies across the United Kingdom and continental Europe have found they can be valuable reservoirs of biodiversity. For example, over 100 species of hover fly pollinators including several rare or vulnerable species were found foraging within vacant lots throughout Coventry, UK. Another study recorded 46 rare UK beetle species within post-industrial vacant land sites, many of which are associated with rare natural habitats such as chalk grasslands, riverine sediments, and sandy heaths. In urban Sweden, vacant lots were found to support greater butterfly diversity than rural semi-natural grasslands. Thus, urban green spaces can be a valuable habitat for beneficial biodiversity!
Establishing conservation habitats within the city also addresses a documented inequality in greenspace access. Unfortunately, the socioeconomic conditions within a city can often be correlated with its ecological conditions. Examples include watersheds in Baltimore, MD, where communities with higher levels of income and education are more likely to contain areas of greenspace compared to lower income communities. Similarly, researchers in Arizona have reported an increase in plant diversity was correlated with family income and housing age within the Phoenix, AZ metropolitan area, and described this “luxury effect” as part of urban ecosystem functional structure. This inequitable allocation of green investment is a key concern of many stakeholders and can be addressed as cities develop conservation and management plans for vacant lands.
Our goal is to examine the potential of vacant land to address biodiversity loss and an unequal distribution of green spaces. We are currently evaluating 8 distinct plant communities on a total of 64 vacant lots. We aim to create habitats that will be viewed as enhancing the beauty of the neighborhood while providing habitat for beneficial wildlife including insect pollinators and predators that consume pest insects. One site of each plant community can be found within one neighborhood or two adjacent neighborhoods. Look for our plots in Buckeye, Central, Detroit Shoreway/Stockyard, Fairfax, Glenville, Hough, Slavic Village, and Tremont/Clark Fulton.
We are examining a diversity of habitat treatments which range from lawn seed mixes to diverse native prairie plantings that include some very rare plant species! The treatments were established in 2015, and each year will become better established and out-compete the existing weedy vegetation. Our plantings were seeded by Ohio Prairie Nursery, a local company with years of expertise managing native plants. We are confident that if given the opportunity to establish, these habitats can add both beauty and conservation value to Cleveland.
–Mary M. Gardiner, PhD., Cleveland Pocket Prairie Project Director
Learn more about each distinct plant community planted on the vacant lots and how each will be maintained, Vacant Lot Plant Communities
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1253197.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.