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.


Related Resources

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Boston, Massachusetts

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) is a community led-redevelopment initiative that originated in 1984 in a neighborhood affected by long-term disinvestment and environmental and safety challenges. Residents of the Dudley Triangle community developed a shared vision for the neighborhood and founded the nonprofit organization. The DNSI secured eminent domain authority to purchase vacant lands, and was able to transform the neighborhood using the community land trust model, ensuring that affordability would be preserved while adding community amenities including parks, playgrounds, a greenhouse and urban farm, and other greenspace. DNSI’s focus areas include (1) development without displacement, (2) youth voice, (3) neighborhood development, and (4) resident empowerment.

Wells-Goodfellow Neighborhood Green Space Project - St. Louis, Missouri

The Green City Coalition -- a partnership between the Metropolitan Sewer District, the City of St. Louis, Missouri Department of Conservation, and the St. Louis Development Corporation -- is leading the conversion of approximately nine acres of vacant land into greenspace for stormwater management and recreation purposes. The Wells Goodfellow neighborhood has the highest proportion of vacant land in the city, and also struggles with combined sewer overflows, basement backups, and street flooding. Based on GIS modeling and multiple community mapping workshops, the coalition settled on location for the green space, opting for conversion of 80 semi-contiguous parcels that will create a neighborhood-wide approach to mitigating flooding and providing natural resilience and other social benefits. US EPA provided funding for a final 3-day design workshop, and funding to begin conversion of the properties was provided by the Robert J. Trulaske Jr. Family Foundation, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, and the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Neighborhood Gardens Trust - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Neighborhood Gardens Trust (NGT) is a land trust that focuses on preserving community gardens and other shared green spaces in use by Philadelphia communities. NGT works with the City of Philadelphia and with community members (including gardeners, community-based organizations, property owners, and others) to purchase or secure long-term leases for vacant lands already in use by the community, so that residents can continue to utilize the land without concern that it will be sold or transferred for development. In 2016, with support from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, NGT completed a garden acquisition study to identify areas to prioritize for garden preservation. Informed by input from stakeholders, the study utilized indicators to identify areas where gardens would be at higher risk of loss to development and where community benefits of preservation would be maximized; these priority indicators included areas with limited access to supermarkets and green space, higher concentration of low- and moderate-income households and rapidly changing real estate values, and areas with higher concentrations of vacant land. NGT also gathered input on needs for garden preservation through community outreach and focus groups involving gardeners and community development corporation staff. After a garden is accepted for preservation, NGT provides insurance and other support for operating gardens while the community continues to run the garden; gardeners also have access to technical assistance through a partnership with PHS.

Community School Parks Program - Los Angeles, California

The Community School Parks program is a partnership service agreement and shared use policy that enables community members in under-resourced neighborhoods to access school parks and playgrounds during off-school hours when they would normally be closed to the public. People for Parks, now a program of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT), opened the first Community School Parks in 2012 and has expanded the program since with the partnership with LANLT and the development of the shared use policy with the LA Unified School District that enables expanded access to school parks. These Community School Parks (CSPs) provide opportunities for youth, families, and neighbors within the community to connect, recreate, and enjoy green and open space in a safe environment. The program targets dense neighborhoods, typically low-income and communities of color, that are park-scarce and would not otherwise have access to open space within walking distance. In addition to Community School Parks, LANLT works to create new green space in communities of color, engaging community members from concept development through to implementation and park stewardship.

Summer Sprout Program - Cleveland, Ohio

The Summer Sprout Program in Cleveland, Ohio is a partnership between the City and Ohio State University that helps communities establish and maintain thriving neighborhood garden spaces and provides educational opportunities to develop community gardening experts.  The program was first initiated in 1976 and grew in 1977 to include a partnership with Ohio State University Extension, Cuyahoga County (OSUECC) to include educational components. The City of Cleveland Land Bank makes vacant city-owned lots available for community gardening uses and the program provides seeds, soil testing, tilling services, and other materials and services to help establish gardens and keep them running. The program provides an example of how adaptive reuse and partnerships to bring financial and educational resources to communities can help to revitalize neighborhoods by engaging residents to develop and maintain productive new greenspace.

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