Sustainability abandoned suburb

Published on December 12th, 2012 | by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

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Another Idea for Converting Abandoned Houses and Neighborhoods in Growing Space

abandoned suburban neighborhoood

Last week, I took a look at the biocellar, a concept for turning abandoned urban homes into greenhouses that serve the surrounding community. One of the beauties of this idea: the “urban” part of this definition isn’t necessary – any structure with a basement could work. I poked around a bit looking for other ideas similar to this, and came upon Evan Hauptmann’s Foreclosure Farm concept, which involves taking abandoned suburban and exurban housing developments, and turning them into farms/growing spaces.

As with the biocellar (which Hauptmann lists as one of his inspirations), the idea here is leverage embodied energy rather than “reinventing the wheel” (and burning more energy to do it). Empty lots in planned developments likely do have ready access to utilities, and abandoned buildings within a development could become sources of usable materials, or converted to serve agricultural purposes – if not greenhouses, then processing plants, markets, etc.

This one blog post was all I found on the concept, so I don’t know whether Hauptmann or anyone else has moved forward with it: the post shows a lot of concepting that could be picked up pretty easily. As he notes in the post, ownership of the land in question would probably be the biggest hurdle to getting this going.

Empty McMansion developments represent the failure of one model of development; that doesn’t mean they’re useless, though. No reason such spaces couldn’t be the site of full-scale ecovillages. Got other idea for putting abandoned “bedroom community” development to more sustainable use? Share it with us.

Image credit: island home via photopin cc



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About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at



  • http://www.neighborsabouttown.blogspot.com Kris, Neighbor Chick

    This is very interesting. I want to ponder those links, too.
    There have to be common sense solutions to our problems…if we really apply ourselves. Everyone always tries to make a buck and it’s so sad when people are suffering.
    Another hurdle, in addition to ownership, would be people cooperating and sharing. It’s not often part of our culture. We need to be more neighborly, eh?? Neighborliness is so very important. Crucial for survival, actually.
    But, such concepts are possible. Visited Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage a couple years ago. They are providing many examples of living communally and lightly on the Earth.
    Thanks for posting this. — Kris

  • Amanda

    One thing I have learn over the years,if its practical,simple,a dang good idea,it never goes over with someone else.Just saying.

  • Pingback: 12/12/12 Food News | Eat Drink Better

  • jemand

    My concern would be about safety. The landscaping done in McMansion suburbs can vary quite a bit from lot to lot– and some lots may have seriously over applied large quantities of chemicals from pesticides to fungicides etc. that were *never* intended to be used on or around food crops, and, since they were applied without a thought to future food use, might pose a problem…

    I think some lots would be *quite* safe for these projects, but others, in case of oil spills due to DIY oil changes gone wrong, chemical lawn and other landscaping control gone obsessive, possible lead garden decorations (or just abandoned lead objects), chemical seeps from a blacktop driveway which you may or may not remove, but regardless may have spread, etc. etc. might make this a dangerous project.

    And it would be very difficult to know whether or not the particular lot you had was going to be safe, or not.

    • http://sustainablog.org Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

      jemand – Good point – anyone doing this would still want to have soil samples tested before moving forward.

  • http://www.greenbusinessowner.com/about/ Scott Cooney

    There are several communities across the US that are doing this already, which is good to see. The idea is…it’s easier to build on flat land, which also just so happens, in many cases, to be the most fertile farmland. No reason that farmland can’t be reclaimed, and several of the buildings in that “neighborhood” reclaimed to create housing, community centers, shopping areas, etc. It’s a matter of zoning laws, but as those housing projects become ever more vacant and the land value declines, politicians will see that property taxes could only go up if someone else invests out there…and that’s exactly what this kind of scenario can be. Thanks for the great post, Jeff!

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