End uses should drive sustainable development. By identifying assets early in the planning process, communities gain crucial momentum in their search for funding opportunities.
- Noble Smith, Co-Author, BRIGHT
Corridor Projects are time-consuming endeavors, with initial construction beginning months or years after a plan is developed. Because this process can take time, it is helpful to work in phases. Planning for development should focus on possibilities and opportunities, thinking of end uses as drivers of revenue and therefore funding the core of any project.
By focusing on the needs of a local community, both organizers and residents can gain a better understanding of how to effectively implement an area-wide plan. By melding community needs with revenue-bearing end uses, like alternative energy, housing, and retail, a community can develop funding to drive the parts of an area-wide plan that do not immediately bear revenue, such as open space reserves, walk paths, and demolition. The planning should begin with a broad range of community ideas to determine “what’s possible,” but over time should narrow to options that have a high likelihood of implementation, in other words, “what’s practicable.”
It is helpful for community leaders to organize development in phases. The primary three phases are the following:
The end uses are the “final products” once all of the planning and development is completed. New construction or property rehabilitation often marks an established end use. Planning and pre-development is the early focus of an area-wide plan. An effective area-wide plan will identify community needs as well as the coalitions and partnerships that are required for real solutions (go to Chapter 2).
Development is the implementation of an area-wide plan and includes the period of demolition and construction, but also the construction of transitional end uses that achieve short-term objectives. During development, parcels can generate community benefits even before the end use phase as a transitional use, one that goes away before the end of the development phase, like a temporary parking lot, parklet, solar array, or easement.
Area-wide planning has the potential to address the substantial harms associated with brownfields, aging infrastructure, blighted property, and the confluence of problems most towns and cities face. Phasing development grounds the process in a timeline where a community and stakeholders can track progress and evaluate efforts. Land can have overlapping uses and purposes throughout the process; determining and implementing the most effective uses of the land are central to area-wide planning.
A parcel or lot is any legally defined quantity of land. What happens on that land, or what has happened on that land often determines its future uses. Strong communities have a variety of different land uses, from business districts and residential neighborhoods to public parks and trails.
Area-wide planning provides an opportunity to take a survey of the different land uses in your community and evaluate if each parcel or lot is being used in a way that meets community needs or benefits residents, focusing special attention on identifying blight, brownfields, and viable open space, for energy creation or park use. Much of this work is outlined in the “Mapping the Area” section of Chapter 3, where you should assess what parcels to include in the area for planning purposes and which to not include, based on ownership, status, and a number of other factors.
Historically, zoning has been focused on a single broad end use, like residential or commercial. When considering an area, a community needs to think of it as a whole and also at the individual parcel level. Any single parcel could have more than one end use and these land uses may change over time. Planning for both the short term and the long term is useful for framing the types of outcomes that can come from an area-wide plan.
“Stacking uses” is a method of maximizing the productivity of the land and addressing community needs. With its basis in permaculture, “stacking” is using a single parcel to provide multiple benefits. The idea is best described by the illustration of a former brownfield being remediated and converted into a parking lot with permeable pavement and watershed management infrastructure, covered by a solar array. What once was just one thing, a potentially toxic eyesore in the community, has transformed into three vital end uses in the community. This is “stacking functions” in a nutshell.
Planning for brownfield redevelopment requires an integrated set of creative solutions to address the interwoven issues that affect communities. Different communities will implement different uses for land, depending on geography, need, capacity, and a host of other factors. Selecting the proper combination of end uses to transform communities and revitalize neighborhoods is the inspirational guiding light of area-wide planning.
A community should think creatively at first, considering every option, and then with research and vetting, narrow that list to an actionable set of end uses to stack. End uses may take up a number of parcels or be isolated on one, but all area-wide plans should work to include as many end uses as possible so as to maximize the benefits to the community.
Area-wide planning harnesses the power of multiple end uses by virtue of assessing the possibilities across a number of community parcels. Often, brownfields with different owners are adjacent to each other and may include a row of blighted residential or commercial properties; an area-wide plan considers what a community could do across all of those properties.
For example, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission sought to obtain the EPA's Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grant for the revitalization of several parcels of land adjacent to the Frankford Creek and the Delaware River. The project area, which has a significant minority population and high poverty rates, was highly industrial with a legacy of pollution that impacted the communities within the area. As a result, there have been health-related disparities for residents within the project area, such as higher levels of asthma, hypertension, and overall poorer health. Given the area's history, health disparities, and ongoing investments, the plan proposed several end-uses that directly responded to the community's needs to improve residential health and spur economic development. The proposed end-uses included greenways, parks, residential/commercial buildings, and stormwater, flood, and air quality management.
Without a holistic planning framework, community efforts to develop sustainably and collaborate with necessary agencies often resembles a game of whack-a-mole, running around town solving one seemingly disparate problem after another. Area-wide planning says that there are efficiencies and opportunities to be found in broadening the scope of a plan, seeing the interrelationship between the various parts of a community.
Development, particularly construction, takes multiple stages to complete. As a result, a parcel may be suitable for multiple uses. These potential uses provide opportunities for a host of outcomes. Economic, environmental, aesthetic, cultural, and educational benefits can be realized by effectively utilizing the possible transitional, short-, and long-term uses.
Example: Solar arrays can be all three types of end uses.
Below is an example of a former mining site that was redeveloped into a field of solar arrays in Kimberley, British Columbia.
For a domestic example of a similar project in Massachusetts, view the longer webinar below.
Often, communities must tear down existing infrastructure in their efforts to create a new asset. Removing local infrastructure isn't exciting but is necessary when creating and maintaining healthy environments. Demolition should be thought of as community hygiene rather than the final chapter of a building’s life. Long-term abandoned properties cause more harm over time to communities than vacant lots.
Remediation of demolished properties is necessary when communities are dealing with environmental hazards. The longer environmental hazards are left unattended, the more harm they cause. A community may have to tear down harmful infrastructure to jumpstart development. When demolition is framed in terms of remediation, development can be a form of community maintenance.
While removing a structure may seem like starting over, demolition is a crucial step to finding a productive end use for brownfields and other community hazards. Brownfield remediation often requires land to go unused for extended periods, so effective short-term uses can generate benefits for communities while the land is preparing for long-term use.
Long-term uses should be the main focus of an Area-Wide Plan. These are the uses that have the potential to transform a community. Corridor Projects should address community needs through housing, economic opportunities, environmental management, or other benefits that flow to residents and stakeholders. Maximizing the types of uses for a parcel can satisfy the needs and wants of a diverse group of stakeholders.
Stacking is a method of maximizing the economic, social, and commercial benefits that a parcel can provide. Examples of stacking include placing solar panels on the roof of a community center or equipping trails with stormwater management systems. A parcel or group of parcels can have multiple uses throughout its development lifetime.
(Bookend example icon)
The Broadway Corridor Project, in Portland, Oregon, contemplated stacking end-uses to provide public benefits and to increase its economic value. Portland's Central City 2035 Plan identified the area of the project as an opportunity for high density employment and city attractions. To maximize this opportunity, the project identified several end-uses to improve public spaces, create social benefits, and promote economic development. Some of these end-uses included expanding parks, creating bikeways and walkways for pedestrians, building low to moderate income housing, developing commercial spaced for significant job opportunities, and promoting sustainability through the project.
(Bookend example icon)
Residents, economic stakeholders, and municipal authorities can share in the benefits of stacked uses. For residents, stacking end uses creates opportunities for local investment and resource allocation along with aesthetic and social benefits. Low-income communities often have several vacant or abandoned parcels in close proximity. Control of these vacant parcels is fundamental in implementing an area-wide plan. In most cases, these parcels sit empty until development.
These vacant parcels are excellent opportunities for solar infrastructure. Particularly in communities with many vacant lots or parcels, solar infrastructure can provide some aesthetic benefits in addition to providing economic and environmental opportunities for community investment. Stacking end uses allows an otherwise vacant parcel to be a valuable asset during pre-development and increase value later in the development process.
Economic stakeholders primarily benefit from stacked end users through increased opportunities to generate revenue. Real estate and commercial stakeholders benefit through shared resources when stacking end uses in addition to their cost-saving mechanisms. Affordable housing developments combined with sustainable green infrastructure provide several funding opportunities to developers looking to use tax credits to maximize profits.
The secondary and environmental benefits of stacking end uses are realized by decreasing cost providing long-term sustainability. Green infrastructure and Net-Zero buildings provide long-term savings by emphasizing sustainability in end uses. Whether by lowering heating costs over time or supplementing energy use, stacking uses can be a useful tool for economic stakeholders to minimize short- and long-term costs.
Municipalities also benefit from stacked end uses. Stacking end uses, particularly green infrastructure, generates cost-saving and tax-generating opportunities for municipalities. Diversified end uses ensure that overall, corridor revitalization efforts are revenue positive or neutral. For example, housing developments on vacant properties increase property tax revenue for municipalities and reduce the public cost of tending to the empty lots. These benefits flow directly to the city. Installing and maintaining a work of public art alone, by contrast, requires a significant up-front investment, while the economic benefits may accrue primarily to nearby property holders who benefit from increased local tourism.
Land ownership is a critical factor in creating and implementing an area-wide plan. Fundamentally, the owners of parcels can leverage their assets and their interest better than other community stakeholders. Whether a parcel is owned by a municipality, a non-profit organization, or an individual homeowner, that land is a valuable asset. Understanding which property owners will work with planners and which owners will be adversarial is crucial to executing an area-wide plan.
Title searching is a tool to find hard to reach landowners. Most municipalities have title databases that list specific property owners. Local law schools and Law offices may offer pro bono legal services that assist in cleaning title to the property when ownership is unclear.
A tax sale is a tool residents and non-profit organizations can use to acquire problem parcels with clear titles at a reduced cost. A tax sale is the forced sale of property by a governmental authority due to unpaid taxes by the property owner. Depending on the jurisdiction, a property can be purchased outright or a lien on the property can be purchased.
The free and clear title that comes with a Tax Sale is a benefit to community organizations that have limited funds but also attracts developers looking to make a quick buck flipping homes. Tax sales are a way of forcing the city to do the work of making the property available for purchase. Different municipalities have different rules that govern their tax sales.
Equity in Acquisition
The acquisition of land has the potential to reproduce inequalities within communities. Often, prospective buyers with strong financial backing can take advantage of the lower cost of land in medium and low-income neighborhoods. Particularly in distressed neighborhoods, property ownership provides an opportunity to build wealth through equity. Though municipal investment and cooperation with financial institutions (banks) low-income neighborhoods plagued by abandonment create the right conditions for low-income homeownership.
Creating a network of public-private partnerships (PPPs) is essential for development and planning. PPPs vary in size, scope, and authority but the essential elements of a PPP include one or more parties from the public sector (school board, Mayor’s office, County Sheriff) and one or more parties from the private sector (banks, construction companies, restaurant associations). PPPs can have equal divisions of power between the private and public sides depending on their joint goals and how they choose to distribute risk.
These partnerships work because the public sector can be politically tied whereas the private sector may not know what community's needs are. They are effective tools in addressing community needs even outside of development. The Federal government partnership with private steel producers during WWII is a large-scale example of partnerships between public entities and private corporations. On a smaller scale, some urban homeowner associations work with city foresters to maintain street trees in residential neighborhoods.
The shape and size of PPPs depend largely on the goals of the partnership and the benefits that are provided to the parties. PPPs are more of a process than an organizational structure. They work because they allow for the pooling of resources, public-private sector negotiations, and joint liability.
Green uses are end uses that primarily generate environmental benefits or remediate environmental harm for communities. These benefits range from soil remediation to habitat development.
Urban agriculture is the planting, tending, and harvesting of food in a metropolitan area. This process has a variety of applications depending on the scale of the project and resources available to communities. Common urban agriculture examples are community gardens and green walls. While few farms are profitable enough to run as standalone for-profits, there are many Co-op and volunteer models that have found success across the country. In communities that are not familiar with urban agriculture techniques developing interest is crucial to having a sustaining long-term project.
To learn more about urban agriculture, click here.
Natural Habitat Restoration
Urban natural habitat restoration may seem counterintuitive as an end use strategy but can provide ecological and social benefits. Habitat restoration in urban areas gives native plant species space to thrive in settings that can be otherwise very harsh. For dense urban communities, vegetation filters out pollutants from air and water while helping to remediate soil. Like urban agriculture, habitat restoration raises surrounding home values by providing green space. Unlike urban agriculture, space does not need constant maintenance and upkeep from residents.
Contamination of the soil is the largest challenge communities face when restoring natural habitats. Often, vacant parcels contain lead and other soil contaminants that can be harmful to children if not remediated. Natural habitat restoration can be extremely beneficial in areas prone to flooding; their permeable surfaces provide drainage when surrounding areas may be paved or covered in concrete.
To learn more about natural habitat restoration, click here.
Abandoned Railways and industrial shipping routes can provide pedestrian connectivity to neighborhoods in both urban and suburban communities. The “prebuilt” infrastructure can keep costs low when planning and implementing an end use. Converting these pathways to trails will provide valuable greenspace for communities experiencing blight and abandonment. Added greenspace improves home values and increases foot traffic for businesses.
A well-established trail network will facilitate social connectivity as well as mobility. Trail conversion can foster public-private partnerships that lead federal, local, and private investment in community revitalization. The National Trail System Act provides a legal route for public and private entities to convert abandoned railways to more productive uses. This legal path can help cut through a host of property ownership issues that come with abandoned property acquisition.
To learn more about connective pathways, click here.
Green Infrastructure (Stormwater Management)
Green infrastructure is manmade, with the primary purpose of providing environmental and ecological benefits to communities. Stormwater maintenance and management is a national issue and green infrastructure provides substantial solutions. In areas with high concentration of impervious paving, the flooding caused by heavy rain can have a significant financial impact. Green alleys and municipal separate storm sewer systems are two of the many ways green infrastructure for stormwater management can be implemented in urban neighborhoods.
To learn more about green infrastructure, click here.
Commercial reuses focus on generating revenue for communities and stakeholders. Independent businesses, large commercial enterprises, and renewable energy all provide opportunities to increase the economic and financial situation of communities.
A robust renewable energy infrastructure can generate revenue and lower energy cost for communities. Solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal power have a variety of applications, and what will work best for a community will vary case by case. Identifying which parcels can generate power efficiently is necessary when implementing renewable energy plans.
State power regulations may be a barrier to communities looking to create robust energy infrastructure. It is important to understand how local and state authorities view renewable energy before undertaking a complex development. These cost-effective options are attractive to financial investors and can be creatively integrated into most new construction projects. For parcels that have high remediation costs, renewable energy is a great short- and long-term use.
Independent Local Businesses
In communities that desire increased employment opportunities, local businesses offer a solution. In addition to job creation, these businesses serve as cultural landmarks for residents. Local businesses owners are important stakeholders and are vital to generating community support. Through investment and employment, independent commercial uses create local revenue streams. Small business loans and philanthropic organizations can provide the start up capital for an independent business.
Mixed-use commercial buildings are a common method for addressing multiple community needs. Commercial construction may face zoning restrictions that do not allow business within certain neighborhood boundaries. It is important to understand resident attitudes towards local businesses as they will be the ones most affected.
Large Scale Commercial Businesses
Large scale commercial businesses offer similar employment benefits as local businesses. National grocery store chains, supermarkets, and retail vendors can use local employment initiatives in communities that desire employment opportunities. In food deserts and areas that suffer from food insecurity, a nationwide food distributor is a particularly attractive end use.
Large commercial users can become community anchors over time but pose a number of challenges. Operators of large commercial facilities often will lease their building rather than purchase it. Because these users are tied to profit, these businesses may not stay in communities in the long term. These anchor tenants often require a large operating space in addition to parking lots.
Finding the right anchor tenant can pose a number of challenges, but communities that identify their needs and assets, like large scale commercial uses, can create a positive transformation in disenfranchised communities.
Zero Energy Building (ZEB)
Zero energy or “net-zero” buildings are structures designed to create more energy than they consume. By stacking uses and leveraging funding, it is possible to construct buildings that produce energy rather than solely consume it. The “net-zero” model for buildings can be expanded to neighborhoods that transform into “zero energy communities.” Net negative buildings (buildings that produce more energy than they use) can be developed with effective community partnerships.
For communities looking to address social and environmental justice, ZEB is an opportunity to reinforce its commitment to residents. Zero energy housing developments directly benefit communities who have been prevented from reaping the benefits of green innovation. Reducing the energy consumption deficit is a holistic approach that requires careful planning on all parts of a parcel. By reducing long-term costs, ZEBs allow residents or community groups to invest money locally. Depending on the surrounding environment, the potential sources of renewable energy may be limited.
Community-focused end uses are end uses that focus primarily on addressing community needs. While these end uses can provide secondary environmental benefits, community end uses such as housing or outdoor recreation centers primarily serve community members and social needs. In low-income communities, there is often a lack of municipal support services. Lack of investment or active divestment by municipalities exacerbate issues that affect low-income communities.
In some cases, communities have gotten so used to the lack of municipal investment they fear it and rightly so. There is an extensive history of low-income communities being left out of large scale city development and planning. By creating public and private partnerships, low-income communities can bring equitable development to municipal planning. Effective area-wide planning includes community-based end uses that serve residents and visitors to communities.
Across the country many urban areas are suffering from a housing crisis. This crisis has led to rising housing costs, diminished housing stock, rising living costs, and fewer investment opportunities in moderate- to low-income communities. Affordable housing provides an opportunity for investment from a number of different funding sources.
Municipalities, business owners, and residents all are affected by the creation of housing opportunities. Each group has its own distinct relationship with housing, and in some cases these interests will conflict with each other. Maintaining a strong public-private partnership is paramount to creating equitable housing opportunities.
Despite evidence to the contrary, some communities believe that the introduction of affordable housing will cause home values to drop substantially as crime, on the other hand, increases. Nationwide, communities have adopted a “Not-In-My-Backyard” (NIMBY) approach to affordable housing which has resulted in affordable housing being concentrated in areas that have few political or economic resources. Affordable housing in more affluent communities can be used to control housing costs by creating mixed-income neighborhoods rather than ones that are situated on opposite sides of the wealth gap. Emphasizing the economic and social benefits of affordable housing is an effective strategy when communicating with stakeholders.
Public art is a means for using local infrastructure to create aesthetic benefits for residents and other community members. Street murals, park sculptures, and other forms of art help neighborhoods define themselves and serve as cultural reference points. Public art generates social, environmental, and economic benefits for communities. Despite these benefits, public art may be difficult to implement. When creating opportunities for public art, it is important for organizations to survey communities to find the kind of art installation that best fits a community. Art installations can provide environmental and educational opportunities for community members.
An area wide planning project has the potential to transform communities in a positive way. The above uses are not an exhaustive list, but examples of common end uses that address community needs. Communities should begin the area-wide planning process thinking about their most creative end uses and then narrow in end uses that address community needs and can be smoothly implemented. Involving resident groups in all parts of the area-wide planning process guarantees a strategy that can actually address the needs and desires of a community.
Below you'll find a list and breakdown of common end uses for corridor projects. Each of the subheadings will link you to a pdf of the individual one pagers. Here's a pdf that combines all of them.