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This site of an abandoned Albertson's grocery store is available and has also been available for the past four years and likely will be for many more years to come.  It was no longer profitable to  Albertson's corporate bottom line so they skipped town.  How long do the people who live in this area have to look at it before it is torn down?  How many thousands of dollars do the people who own this building get in tax write-offs each year?  Where do the rights of local citizens fit into this economic picture?   We need to start asking these kinds of questions of our city leaders.  As for as the ROI for the Garland citizens on this property, I'm fairly certain that we are in the minus zone.

For example, in 2013 stagnant water, a breeding ground for mosquitoes, sat for over a month in an area in back of this building, an area where grocery products were once unloaded.  I called our city to report this health hazard and then monitored the situation until it was finally handled four weeks later.

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It will be you and I as citizens who live in urban areas who demand that steps be taken by our local government leaders to prevent urban blight BEFORE it happens.  It can be stopped and it should be stopped.  Not only are these abandoned sites an eyesore, they are also major contributors to the pollution and even health issues of the local environment and an ongoing expense to people who live in the community.

It might be interesting to drive around one’s city and add up the tillable acreage that is currently covered in unused (or at least 80 or 90% unused) concrete and asphalt.  This is a huge issue nationwide, but like all issues nationwide, it is one that can likely only be solved at the local level by local people who demand it of their local leadership.

Planners for new urban retail commercial developments continue to follow the tradition of our nation’s long “westward ho” history of poor land management and city leaders continue to allow them to do so because the short-term advantages of the development offer a temporary shot in the arm to the local economy.  

Planner and developers take advantage of local communities and this needs to change because in the long-term it's the people in the local community who pay the real price.  What private/public partnerships often amount to is the private part covers the profit side of the ledger while the debit side of the ledger is ultimately the responsibility of the public--and long after the private folks have packed their bags and left town.

 As the land wore out throughout the 19th century and was no longer suited for growing food, due to poor land management by farmers, they continued to push westward all the way eventually to the Pacific Ocean.  Also, ironically many of our cities were built up on some of the richest farmland in the nation and today is covered beneath layers of asphalt and concrete.  

This model continues to be a land management model that is followed today in our urban areas by developers of large shopping centers and sprawling industrial office sites.  Again if you question this, drive around your own city and calculate the acreage covered in asphalt and empty buildings.  In my own neighborhood I can walk to a spot that has approximately three acres covered in asphalt and a building that has been unused for almost five years now—the site of an abandoned Albertson’s on 78 at Naaman School Road.  The building alone must be about two acres. 

Urban land and real estate values are often said to be too valuable for the land to be used for farming.  Talk about twisted values—money being more important than quality of food we eat to sustain our lives.  And today, you’ll find this same excuse being offered by developers and city planners.  “Oh that real estate is too valuable to be used to grow food.  We can’t get a decent return on our investment with agriculture.”

Leaders of local governments have moral duties develop laws to protect the public they are supposed to represent from situations such as deteriorating buildings, which for all practical purposes have been abandoned by those who developed them.  If all the unused/abandoned malls, shopping centers and industrial business complexes were put on the EPA list of superfund sites, we would have millions of sites all over the USA that continue to harm the environment and the people who live nearby—millions of sites needing remediation.  Then we would have a more accurate picture of the true levels of land pollution that we have allowed in the USA.

As with almost any problem, prevention is the best cure. 

To stop this disease of urban blight and pollution, we need to ask the leaders of our local governments to inoculate project plans with provisions to protect the public from what amounts to irresponsibility of the original planners, builders and users of these spaces.  Create provisions in the contracts that make these original planners, builders and users of these spaces pay the cost for environmental remediation up front for these sites once they are finished with using them and decide to move on and out of the community. 

This money would be set-aside in a special public fund as insurance against that day when these people decide (and they will) that it is no longer profitable for them to use and maintain the site.  It would be part of the requirements prior to even issuing the permits to build.  It’s useless to try to collect after the damage has been done because by that time the property has often changed ownership more than once and the lines of responsibility are blurred.

No new shopping centers and urban office complexes should be developed on vacant lots and virgin land while there are abandoned ones in existence within an urban area.  This may sound harsh, and I can hear the protests—“the planners will go elsewhere.”  Let them.  If we don’t, then we are just perpetuating a continuation of the current problem and encroaching urban blight.  You can bet your bucks that just about any new commercial/retail/business development undertaken today will become just like the others in 20 to 30 years. This is a situation that needs to end and it won’t happen without “tough love” from city leaders.

The public should be protected from what amounts to the irresponsibility of these people.  No property should be allowed to sit for years and deteriorate while the owners continue to do damage elsewhere and use the deteriorating property as a tax write off.  This is so wrong should be considered a public nuisance.  After one year, local government leaders should take action on behalf of the majority of the people they are supposed to represent.

Urban Agriculture Doesn’t Just Happen.  It needs to be planned.

As long as we are talking about city planning and new provisions that need to be added to their documentation, we can add specific and clear requirements and provisions that provide for supporting and increasing urban agriculture within the boundaries of the municipality.

Urban agriculture should become, and indeed is becoming in many cities, part of their short-term and long-term planning process.  Any city plan that does not include provisions and funds set aside designed to increase food production within its municipality is a city plan that is selling its citizens short.

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