Removing Debris From Vacant Lots Could Ramp Up Stormwater Benefits

Flickr/Robert Carr
Flickr/Robert Carr

Cleveland, like other rustbelt cities, was hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, and still struggles with a sea of vacant lots. It’s also a city with aging sewers that spew raw sewage to the lake during heavy rains. One idea gaining momentum among urban planners is to kill two birds with one stone.

Bill Shuster, a Cincinnati-based researcher with the federal EPA, surveyed the soils and hydrology of over 50 of Cleveland’s nearly 30,000 vacant lots. With computer modelling, his team found that some simple fixes in management could turn these lots from producers of runoff to sinks for all that water, keeping it out of the sewage system. "The solutions are there, in the landscape," said Shuster.

One surprising finding was over half of the lots he studied had demolition debris buried on-site. This prevents the soil from absorbing stormwater. "We’d find phone books, mattresses, bedsprings, ashes where there was a hearth, so it really was going back in the deep urban history," said Shuster.

His modelling suggests requirements for demolition debris removal, as well as site leveling and revegetation, could go a long way in making vacant lots a key part of the city’s overall efforts towards stormwater management.

This research will be published in the May edition of the journal of Landscape and Urban Planning.

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