Disposition of Publicly Owned Land in Cities: Learning from Cleveland and Detroit

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Margaret Dewar


Cleveland and Detroit have had similar losses in employment and population and have the same poverty rates. Both have experienced property abandonment that resulted in each city's owning thousands of parcels of tax-reverted land. The reputations of the two cities regarding their handling of such property differ greatly. Cleveland's land bank is credited with facilitating redevelopment while Detroit's disposition procedures are blamed for interfering with new development. What makes Cleveland's system apparently more successful than Detroit's in the context of similar demand for land? Cleveland had accurate data on its property inventory; received and conveyed property with clear title; had a predictable, stable, publicly known pricing system for land; could hold land for developers as they pulled their projects together; and worked under mayors who made property disposition for new housing construction a priority. Cleveland's land disposition system is transparent and usually routine, and city and county officials and nonprofit developers work together to implement and improve land disposition.