Many times, when we view an abandoned space in an otherwise populated area, our automatic reaction is to mourn the loss of its use value — here is a house that’s been allowed to decay instead of provide shelter, here is a piece of land which could be productive, a lawn, a park, a homesite, but is instead overtaken by weeds. “What a waste!” we think. In large cities that have suffered population loss after deindustrialization, places like Baltimore and Philadelphia, entire neighborhoods are mottled with abandoned spaces, lost usefulness. Even the house cats are feral.
One common desire we have is to want to rehab and reclaim — undo the harm nature or other humans have done and bring the space back into perfect human usefulness. This idea has been slickly packaged and sold to us in so many iterations of the home renovation show. As the tide of exodus of the middle class from cities turns and metro populations begin to swell again, land values increase, old homes are renovated and new homes are built in old spaces. In the early stages of redevelopment, as the wealth of neighborhoods increases along with the expectations of the residents, the “eyesore” of the abandoned lot is no longer tolerated. But as changes begin to materialize, before vacant land gives rise to condominiums, businesses, and more cultivated permanent uses, one of our favorite initial practices is to transform it more moderately. Say, into a community garden.