science    in   ACTION
     Impacts of Residential Demolition and the Sustainable
     Reuse of Vacant Lots (Cleveland, Ohio)

     Post-industrial cities share the
     problems of aging civic and water
     infrastructure, a depleted tax base,
     and underserved neighborhoods that
     lack basic environmental services.
     For example, due to the recent spike
     in foreclosures coupled with
     continued blight within U.S. urban
     cores, the number of residential
     demolitions has increased, and so
     has the amount of vacant land. The
     demolition of residences changes
     urban landform, and the social and
     economic fabric of a neighborhood.

     hi many urban cores, stormwater
     combines with septic flows in
     combined sewers. These combined
     sewer systems overflow to streams,
     rivers and lakes. The Clean Water
     Act (1972) regulates combined
     sewers. Enforcement of this law has
     inspired local wastewater managers
     to manage storm flows by
     complementing traditional
     wastewater infrastructure (e.g.,
     sewer pipes and wastewater
     treatment plants) with green
     infrastructure. Green infrastructure
     (e.g., rain gardens)  uses plants, soils
     and storage  systems to capture
     rainfall, prevent runoff, and keep
     stormwater out of the combined
     wastewater system

     Vacant lots  can function as green
     infrastructure. The  soils that
     underlay vacant lots can infiltrate,
     store, and act as a sink for excess
     stormwater runoff.  To areas
     historically without green space,
     green infrastructure can also provide
     ecosystem services such as
     pollinator activity, heat relief
             through evaporative cooling, and
             more pleasant surroundings.
             Project Overview

             EPA researchers are studying
             vacant lots and their soils. One
             benefit of vacant lots is that they
             are found among viable
             residences and distributed through
             most neighborhoods. However, little
             is known about urban soils, much
             less their capacity to support green
             infrastructure and other techniques
             to soak up excess urban runoff.

             This research takes a comprehensive
             look at the nature of urban soils by
             measuring how fast water moves
             into the soil, taking deep soil cores,
             and using soil taxonomy and the
             cores to understand how water
             moves through various depths. The
             research expands our knowledge of
             how demolition affects vacant lots
             and their utility for reuse. The work
             generates science-based
             recommendations on restoring
             vacant lot soils, and revising
             demolition practices to ensure that
             we are not wasting opportunities to
             preserve natural resources.

             The objective of this work is to
             quantify physical, chemical and
             hydrologic characteristics of vacant
             lot soils. This knowledge will
             expand the understanding of how
             these soils may support vegetation,
             and will be applied to suggesting
             ways to manage urban soils for
             stormwater management and other
             ecosystem services.
A typical vacant lot in Cleveland, Ohio.

hi a sampling of vacant lots and city
parks in the cities of Cincinnati and
Cleveland, Ohio, researchers
assessed soils from both undisturbed
(back yard right-of-way) and
disturbed (where the residence
previously stood) places in vacant
lots. They measured the amount of
buried rubble left behind at the time
of demolition, canopy cover, and
ease of water movement. They
analyzed soil nutrients, described
soils using soil taxonomy,  and
reached depths approaching bedrock
(usually 3-4  m).
Results and Discussion

Researchers observed that even for
the more thorough post-1996
demolitions, debris removal was
usually incomplete, leaving much
large debris (concrete, brick, wood,
etc.). This means that vacant lots
will require additional fill soil and
preparation prior to further
improvements. Observations also
indicated that demolition contractors
do not typically adhere to the
requirements in Cleveland, Ohio.
     U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
     Office of Research and Development
     National Risk Management Research Laboratory
     Sustainable Technology Division
                                                         March 2012

The fertility of vacant lot soils was
generally sufficient to support
vegetation, especially in the parts of
the lot around the house. Fill soils
tended to be finer in texture and
slaked over, restricting water
infiltration and support for
vegetation. Soil restoration in
residential filled areas should start
with a tilth-building program that
adds raw or composted organic
matter and incorporates serial cover-
cropping with deep-rooted species,
and may include other approaches to
initiate organic matter cycling and
promote water infiltration and

If water that has  infiltrated into
surface soils cannot move downward
or elsewhere, it can saturate soils
and cause problems for neighbors, hi
vacant lots, there were at least two
controls on subsurface hydraulic
conductivity, which measures ease
of water movement. Soils in
Cleveland that are closer to Lake
Erie were sandy, and water passed
through these soils easily. Even if
subsoils were not permeable, it was
often the case that incompletely-
filled rubble deposits or basement
areas filled with  rubble would pass
water very quickly.

Overall, vacant lot soils supported
some vegetation, and had some
capacity for infiltrating stormwater.
With improvements, vacant lots may
offer other benefits to local
communities. Vacant lots can be
turned into vibrant green spaces that
offer a venue for local agriculture,
pocket parks or other uses. Another
important use for vacant lots that are
properly managed is stormwater
infiltration, hi cities like Detroit,
Cleveland, Cincinnati, vacant lots
are interspersed with residential
housing, and provide a ready sink
for stormwater volume from streets
and the roofs of houses. Eliminating
this stormwater volume from
combined or separated sewer
systems could save sewer districts
money and provide benefits. Yet,
getting the vacant lot into shape can
be a big job. We are currently
looking into the costs and benefits of
a thorough versus an incomplete

The data suggest that demolition
practice requires adjustment to
preserve  existing soil and hydrologic
attributes of vacant lots, and to
maximize future reuse potential. The
study lays the groundwork for
learning how to conduct a
demolition that creates the
opportunity for the flexible reuse of
vacant land.
Future Work

The next step is to test the
effectiveness of green infrastructure
in improving ecosystem-level
processes by restoring and
monitoring vacant lots. Researchers
will use principles of adaptive
management to guide a green-
infrastructure retrofit of a
neighborhood block in the Slavic
Village Development Corporation
area in Cleveland, Ohio.
Implementing green infrastructure,
among other applications, may foster
more sustainable stormwater
management and extend quality
ecosystem services to areas
historically lacking these attributes.

William Shuster, Ph.D., Office of
Research & Development, 513-569-
7244, shuster.william@epa.gov

Moving beyond the udorthent - a
proposed protocol for surveying
urban soils to service data needs for
contemporary urban ecosystem
management. WD Shuster, A
Barkasi, P Clark,  S Dadio, P
Drohan, B Furio, T Gerber, T
Houser, A Kelty, R Losco, K
Reinbold, J Shaffer, J Wander, and
M Wigington. Soil Survey Horizons.
Spring 2011.
A vacant lot in Cleveland, Ohio
before any improvements.
After extensive post-demolition
debris removal, soil management,
and plantings, the same vacant lot is
now an attractive, functional
addition to the neighborhood.
                  Recycled/ recyclable
                  Printed with vegetable-based ink on
                  paper that consists of a minimum of
                  50% post-consumer fiber content
                  processed chlorine free
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Research and Development
National Risk Management Research Laboratory
Sustainable Technology Division
                                                  March 2012