America’s Next Best Idea?
In cities across the country, cities are beginning to replace abandoned concrete and glass with with trees, green space and cleaner air

In cities across the country, cities are beginning to replace abandoned concrete and glass with with trees, green space and cleaner air. Georgia Tech’s “Red Fields to Green Fields” program is showing cities how to transform foreclosed buildings that bring down real estate values and attract crime into public parks that will attract economic development.

The problem: Since the financial crisis began in 2008, real estate values have declined approximately $10 trillion. Cities are left with vacant strip malls, blighted commercial corridors, abandoned housing developments and an oversupply of retail and industrial space.
The model: Acquire abandoned and underutilized properties. Demolish or reposition them. Replace them with conservation land, parks, infrastructure improvements or other green space. And attract economic development when the economy recovers.
In Atlanta, smaller scale examples such as Atlantic Station, the Piedmont Park expansion and the Beltline Old Fourth Ward project show the idea’s potential. In Boston, the “Big Dig” multi-billion-dollar infrastructure project transformed the city.
With support from the Speedwell Foundation, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia Tech Research Institute helped 11 U.S. cities assess their supply of distressed commercial real estate and determine the best approaches for turning some of it into green space. In June 2011, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Hilton Head Island revealed Red Fields to Green Fields study results that would create as many as 20,000 acres of new parkland and an estimated 300,000 new jobs.
What if…?
What if we invest a few billion dollars in our city to convert red fields to green fields?
To answer the question, Georgia Tech researchers helped each city quantify the economic, health, social, policy and engineering impacts of turning red fields into green fields. They used data from the Federal Reserve, city master plans, green space plans, transportation reports, urban infrastructure redevelopment programs and geographic information system databases. The reports were written in collaboration with the City Parks Alliance and 14 universities, local government agencies and stakeholders.
The 2011 reports add to ones published in 2010 for six other cities — Atlanta, Denver, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Miami and Wilmington (PDFs).
Each city had a different story, but the answers were the same. Highlights from the 2011 reports:
  • Los Angeles: More than 200 projects would revitalize areas surrounding 32 miles of the Los Angeles River to create walkable and bikeable connections to the river and link users to businesses and job sites.
  • Phoenix: Nearly 3,000 acres of non-performing real estate could be removed from the market, creating almost 50,000 jobs and an economic impact of $5.9 billion.
  • Detroit: More than 11,000 acres of distressed real estate could be used to create corridors linking job site locations with housing and transportation.
  • Houston: An interconnected system of parks, trails and economic development corridors on land adjacent to 10 major bayous could create 55,000 jobs over the next 10 years.
  • Hilton Head Island:  Red fields to green fields projects in coastal areas such as Hilton Head can revitalize these communities and establish conservation lands.
  • Denver: Denver is working with the Trust for Public Land to acquire red field sites along the South Platte River Corridor for projects that could add more than 30,000 new jobs and remove more than 6,000 acres of distressed real estate from the market, creating an almost $4 billion impact. video
  • Miami: Miami is acquiring land for projects that could increase its tax base by $59 million per year and create 14,000 jobs per year for five years. video
The interdisciplinary Georgia Tech research team of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students is now helping helping the 11 cities implement their Red Fields to Green Fields plans.
Interconnected parks and trails on land adjacent to bayous could create 55,000 jobs.
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Los Angeles
Concrete riverfront could be converted into green space.
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LA River
Rendering of connected parks cantilevered using a system of suspended piers and linked by a promenade that creates a recreation loop.
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