03/042012

Empty Lots aren’t Vacant, they’re Full of Possibility

By: Taz Loomans

“Empty lots aren’t vacant, they’re full of opportunity,” said world-renown sustainability expert William McDonough when he was in Phoenix last week. And Yuri Artibise echoed this thought in his interview with Firefly Living when he said that Phoenix’s biggest opportunity lies in its empty lots.

So the question is, how can we take this:

Image courtesy of Phil Allsopp of Transpolis Global

and fill the holes in the urban fabric – the empty lots – with the prospect of opportunity?

One of the biggest impediments to making these lots more useful is that many of them are privately owned by speculative developers, some who don’t even live in this state. These speculative developers are sitting on this land, refusing to do anything with it until the miraculous day that they can build a skyscraper and make lots and lots of money from it.

But there is a movement towards making these lots useful right now, not in a decade or two (or never) when it would make sense to build skyscrapers on them. The term “temporary use” has landed deftly in our collective vocabulary as a way to fill the emptiness of these lots. In fact, this idea has been codified in the A.R.T.S. (Adaptive Re-Use of Temporary Space) program which is incubated by the Roosevelt Row CDC. The now famous Valley of the Sunflowers project on a city-owned lot is a result of this program.

Other thoughts on how to make use of these lots are bubbling up. Firefly Living founding partner Chris Wass thinks empty lots present a perfect opportunity to “reinvent the way human beings live and organize themselves”. He is referring to Vincenz Saccento’s Mod Box, which is a 10ft x 10ft x 10ft modular and portable unit that could be used for housing, hotel, or office space. The Mod Box is made in a factory and then shipped to a site. It’s modularity gives it tremendous flexibility and also fills the demands of “temporary use” to a tee since it can easily be shipped back to the factory, re-appointed, and shipped off to be used for another purpose on another site.

In the same vein, there are ideas on utilizing shipping containers for housing or retail on empty lots. A shipping container only costs about $3500, so imagine the possibilities! A few people are already working on some of these possibilities. One is developing an idea of using a shipping container as a stationary food truck that could operate as a small coffee shop. Another is thinking about how to fit a bike rental business into a shipping container. Like the Mod Box, these containers are great “temporary” ways to bring use, vibrancy and life to an empty lot.

Because the Mod Box and shipping containers are so affordable, they can become a burgeoning new housing type for creatives and other young people who’re just starting out. Because, in effect, a person could buy a Mod Box for $75,000 instead of taking out a mortgage for $250,000 for a conventional house. Not only is the affordability factor attractive to the younger demographic, but so are the new and unique ways that these temporary structures can be used.

And thus Phoenix could leverage it’s already-affordable lifestyle with these temporary housing models on empty lots to become an epicenter  for the “entrepreneurial culture” and “social entrepreneurship” that Yuri so misses now that he’s moved back to Vancouver…

But that is just one possibility for our vacant lots. What are others? Leave us a comment with your ideas!

One Response

  1. […] Phoenix is plagued with empty lots, but I understand now, more than ever, why William McDonough said that these lots aren’t […]

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