City Room reports today on an audit by Comptroller William C. Thompson’s office, which cites the Department of Sanitation for “disorganization and mismanagement” in its program for cleaning up vacant lots.

The Lot Cleaning Division is charged with cutting weeds and removing debris and large items. However, the audit found, “‘inadequate internal controls’ by the department in identifying lots for cleaning, processing complaints and work orders and managing the clean-ups.” As writer Sewell Chan put it, these lots, “remain significant eyesores in low-income neighborhoods,” and “are dumping grounds for discarded food, trash, construction debris, lumber, appliances and even vehicles.”

So what can communities do to counteract this problem? In Philadelphia, which has had a major vacant property problem, with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 vacant lots downtown in 2006 according to Philadelphia Weekly, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Green program has created a manual, Reclaiming Vacant Lots: a Philadelphia Green Guide. This manual is geared toward city agencies, community-based organizations and block associations, and outlines a basic “clean & green” approach to managing vacant land, including clearing debris, planting grass and trees and installing fences. It also provides information on settling ownership issues, developing a site plan, and creating a long-term maintenance strategy. Check it out!

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