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The Dish

Sustainable Land Lab Competition

THROUGH TANGIBLE DEMONSTRATION PROJECTS, SUSTAINABLE LAND LAB COMPETITION EXPLORES THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES OF VACANT LAND OF THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS + SEEKS TO ADVANCE ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL, AND ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY.

The Sustainable Land Lab will be a living laboratory of two-year demonstration projects that will showcase innovative ideas and integrated strategies to transform vacant land, one of the St. Louis region’s greatest challenges, into an asset that advances sustainability. On November 2, the Sustainable Land Lab launched a public competition as part of the Sustainable Cities Conference, hosted by Washington University in partnership with the City of St. Louis. Teams are competing for the opportunity to demonstrate their ideas through tangible projects at the scale of a single vacant lot.

Each of the Sustainable Land Lab’s demonstration projects will consist of integrated strategies for urban sustainability issues, such as: power generation, site remediation, storm water management, economic development, food systems, art, community engagement, and habitat creation. In this inaugural year of the competition, Old North St. Louis will serve as the pilot neighborhood for the Sustainable Land Lab. Teams will have the opportunity to select their project site from six available lots located in close proximity to one another, directly adjacent to or within the Crown Square redevelopment. Up to four demonstration projects will be chosen to receive a two-year lot lease and a $5,000 grant toward project implementation.

Goals of the Sustainable Land Lab Competition are to:

• Raise awareness and foster public dialogue about the challenges and opportunities of vacant land in order to reimagine it as a regional asset

• Spur innovative and replicable ideas for using vacant land to advance environmental, social, and economic sustainability

• Create tangible demonstration projects that: a) showcase interim and/or potential long-term uses of vacant lots and b) provide ongoing opportunities for public education and c) provide opportunities for data collection and observation of the impact of the solutions

• Build on and catalyze further neighborhood revitalization efforts in and around the project area

• Spark increased demand for creative, smart, and sustainable uses of under-utilized land in other neighborhoods

The City of St. Louis estimates more than 10,000 vacant parcels have come into its ownership through tax foreclosure — and nearly 20 percent of all property within city limits is vacant. Approximately 8,000 of the City-owned parcels are vacant lots without any structures. Concentrations of vacant and/or underutilized land are closely interrelated with detrimental social, economic, and environmental impacts, including depressed property values, high prevalence of crime, environmental hazards, and additional disinvestment. All of these outgrowths of abandonment raise costs for local and regional governments and weaken the ability to attract and retain businesses and residents in the area. The vast number of vacant lots, buildings, and commercial areas in the St. Louis region is a compelling indicator suggesting a need to embrace additional and alternative approaches to urban land use.

While there aren’t any quick solutions to such a multi-faceted issue, case studies across the U.S. show that a shift in public thinking and policy around the highest and best use of these properties presents a major opportunity for innovation. Repurposing vacant land for environmentally, socially, and/or economically productive uses, whether interim or long-term, can have transformative impacts on the health and vitality of neighborhoods, the City, and the region.

The competition has been launched November 2 2012, and the winning teams will be announced April 8 2013.

More details here.