What To Do With Abandoned Buildings?

One Challenge Is Simply Counting Them

The Dec. 1999 Worcester fire started in a vacant structure, the Cold Storage Warehouse. But how many such potential fire hazards are waiting to happen?

According to Michael Pagano, a political science professor at the University of Miami in Ohio, there is no national census of abandoned structures, demolished buildings or of vacant land.

So that's what he and professor Ann Bowman of the University of South Carolina attempted to do in contacting 99 cities with populations over 100,000. Only 57 responded.

Nobody Home
Read another study of abandoned building, discussing the difficulties in gathering data, "Abandoned Buildings: Models for Legislative & Enforcement Reform," by a Trinity College professor.

They received estimates only. In many cities, owners of abandoned residences or commercial buildings don't need to notify anyone that no people will be in them, Pagano said. (In other cities it is an ordinance violation not to alert authorities; notification triggers surveillance and more frequent visits to the site for safety purposes.)

Pagano notes that the status of a structure can change frequently. It might be abandoned for three or four months while an owner negotiates with a new tenant.

Their findings are shown in the chart below.

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Who are the heroes of your fire department? Tell the 48 Hours bulletin boards.

Before scanning the chart, keep in mind these figures are only estimates and were self-reported by the cities and not verified. Each municipality decided what to include in the abandoned structure category. The tally could inclde some or all of the following: residential, commercial, industrial, warehouse and multifamily properties.

Pagano's reservations: The abandoned structure number is just a gross estimate and it doesn't categorize stuctures by use. (Philadelphia's count, however, is mostly of residential structures, he said.) He insisted the figures are valuable, though. "It gives the broad idea but it doesn't give the specific count of the magnitude of the problem."

City

Population in 1995

City area (acres)

Year of
estimate

Vacant land (acres)

Abandoned structures

Philadelphia

1,478,002

86,144

98

 

54,000

Baltimore

675,000

53,760

 

1,000

15,000

Detroit, Mich.

1,027,000

88,768

97

 

10,000

Kansas City, Mo.

442,300

203,520

97

12,800

5,000

San Antonio

1,115,600

248,320

97

51,402

3,000

Jacksonville

711,933

485,488

98

16,726

2,800

Louisville

386,000

40,960

87

1,750

2,200

Mobile, Ala.

206,685

101,018

97

 

2,009

Springfield

150,604

46,144

 

7,842

1,121

Charlotte

460,000

149,760

96

32,000

1,000

Cincinnati

362,040

49,280

98

493

1,000

Columbus, Ohio

660,000

135,488

97

16,867

1,000

Providence

160,728

11,840

97

1,776

800

Virginia Beach

420,000

196,480

97

48,000

650

Little Rock

181,295

76,800

98

 

600

New Haven

123,000

12,800

98

700

524

Vallejo, Calif.

100,000

32,960

95 

500

South Bend

105,511

24,960

97

1,500

500

Syracuse

160,000

16,064

97

 

500

Beaumont, Texas

114,323

54,669

97

 

500

Salt Lake City

163,405

77,718

97

 

500

Orlando

173,122

62,733

96

18,000

400

Akron

223,000

39,808

  

300

Moreno Valley, Calif.

133,000

/TD>

32,000

97

12,800

250

Erie

108,718

51,200

97

1,536

225

San Diego

1,197,000

211,200

97

30,080

200

Amarillo

158,000

56,730

97

25,528

200


Source: Michael Pagano and Ann Bowman

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