Green Uses for Vacant Buildings
Yahoo! News featured a report this week about vacant government buildings being left unused for years while consuming millions of taxpayer dollars for maintenance.
The report stated that at an estimated 14,000 federal government-owned buildings are vacant or nearly vacant, and cost $190 million per year to maintain. Some of these are high value real estate property but have remained unused for more than a decade. After the gauntlet of objections and criticisms has been raised, the more important issue remains: how best to use vacant buildings, government-owned or otherwise?
Vacant buildings that remain safe for occupancy and use (in contrast with dangerous, dilapidated infrastructure) seems to present more of a challenge than the traditional open space or green space. The Urban Environmental Program in New England lists school yards, public plazas, vacant lots etc., as being included in open spaces. Unused open spaces can be utilized as community gardens, farmers markets, and even sites for festivals and fairs. It’s not as easy however, to throw seed bombs at a vacant building as with a vacant lot, and hope that the green act will contribute something good for the environment.
Yet to let good infrastructure sit and idle its useful years away is certainly the last thing communities need and, alas, that’s exactly what is happening. Here are several ideas on how vacant buildings may be utilized in a green and productive way:
Soil-less / Indoor Agriculture
As the world’s population explodes and arable land becomes increasingly in demand, some advocate indoor or soil less agriculture to meet the world’s food needs. Methods such as hydroponics, diaper farming and film farming require no vast fields or great amounts of soil. Dr. Edward Hardwood’s Aerofarms take it a step further by eliminating the need for both soil and sunlight, making it possible to cultivate plants indoors. Its stackable vertical farms are particularly suitable to customize utilization of unused urban spaces and buildings.
Using vacant buildings to collect and process renewable energy may not be much in terms of both space and turnout, but the idea is worth exploring. Active and passive solar installations, green roofs, rain gardens, and others can add up to a level of productivity that may be enough to make a significant contribution to the community’s needs. At the least, space used to collect renewable energy is better than space left unused or worse, misused.
The No Vacancy! Project advocates creative temporary uses for vacant urban space, whether open or indoors. Some of their suggestions include:
- site for summer outdoor movies
- live music and theater performances, seasonal fairs, art gallery
- mobile agriculture and horticulture
- BMX bike and skate parks
- Youth centers, public outreach centers, temporary libraries and reading rooms
- Green technology demonstrations and product showrooms
What do you think are some good, green, and productive ways to put vacant buildings to use?
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