Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit

Partnerships for Adaptive Reuse

Cities can better enable the establishment and preservation of parks, recreational spaces, and areas for community gardening and urban agriculture through adaptive reuse of vacant lands. Adaptive reuse refers to repurposing property for a use other than the one originally intended, and in the context of reusing vacant lots to create new greenspace, it can be an effective way to enhance natural resilience, reduce urban heat island impacts, create new community assets, and reduce practical and fiscal challenges with city oversight of vacant properties.See footnote 1 Vacant properties can be transformed into community assets that improve natural resilience such as pocket parks or community gardens, and cities can expand access to park and recreational land through development of shared use policies.

Often, cities have facilitated adaptive reuse through partnership arrangements with land trusts, environmental and conservation nonprofits, community-based organizations, and agricultural organizations or extension schools, whereby the city facilitates the process for a land trust to secure ownership or long-term lease of a vacant property for the purpose of community gardening or developing a neighborhood park, and the community assumes responsibility for maintenance of the greenspace.See footnote 2 Community parks and gardens can improve access to local, healthy food, enhance social cohesion, and provide educational and training opportunities, among other benefits.See footnote 3 Educational and training partnerships can help community members maintain natural assets within their neighborhoods and create homegrown experts. In the long term, this can help reduce burdens on the city of upkeep and maintenance of all public greenspace, meanwhile fostering social cohesion among community members that work together to maintain their own greenspace.

In some instances, cities have been able to facilitate neighborhood-scale flood mitigation by utilizing a larger-scale approach to adaptive reuse that invests in the reuse and greening of multiple vacant lots in a single neighborhood through coordinated partnerships among city agencies.

Considerations of Partnerships for Adaptive Reuse for Natural Resilience


  • Costs for physical projects can include land acquisition in some cases, installation of green features, maintenance, educational and training materials, administration of outreach efforts.
  • Cities disposing of vacant lands may benefit economically due to passing off need to maintain/oversee the parcels.
  • Installation and maintenance can largely be funded/performed through partner organizations and community member volunteers.


  • Environmental benefits of adaptive reuse for parks and gardens include carbon sequestration, stormwater management and flood mitigation, air and water pollutant filtration, expanded wildlife habitat, improved soil health, and more.


  • Adaptive reuse can benefit public health through improved air quality (lower asthma rates, etc.), access to nature (mental health), pollutant filtration, reduced urban heat, recreational opportunities, and more.
  • Communities can lead the vision for developing and maintaining the greenspace, which fosters social cohesion and neighborhood revitalization.
  • Adaptive reuse can help address challenges of vacant properties (e.g., safety concerns; upkeep) and reduce greenspace gaps.


  • Adaptive reuse programs require coordination among public and private entities (city agencies, land trusts, schools/school districts, CBOs, environmental nonprofits, and others).
  • New parks and gardens may require utility installations or connections.


  • Legal considerations include land ownership and authority over vacant lots and buildings.
  • Potential liability concerns can arise in adaptive reuse contexts, for example with shared use agreements and community gardens; partner organizations can help to provide insurance coverage to mitigate these concerns.

Lessons Learned

  • Pair adaptive reuse partnerships with educational and training initiatives (or engage additional partners such as extension schools that can provide education and training) to create homegrown experts in the community and provide for sustained maintenance of community parks and gardens.
  • In some cities, there is significant overlap in neighborhoods that experience flooding and water pollution challenges, such as from combined sewer overflows, and neighborhoods with higher percentage of impervious surfaces, and challenges of vacant and abandoned property. In these instances, cities can utilize adaptive reuse to create networks of new “pocket parks” and other greenspace, as a nature-based component of a large-scale flood mitigation strategy.



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