Can Shrinking Cities Demolish Vacancy? An Empirical Evaluation of a Demolition-First Approach to Vacancy Management in Buffalo, NY, USA




Weaver, Russell
Knight, Jason

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Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute


Publicly-funded demolition of vacant structures is an essential tool used in shrinking cities to eliminate nuisances and, often, reduce vacancy rates. Concerning the latter, however, when shrinking cities implement large-scale demolition programs independent of complementary planning efforts, it is reasonable to expect impacts on vacancy to be negligible. Among other reasons, demolition operates only on the outflow of existing vacant structures and largely fails to grapple with inflows that add to vacancy over time. This article evaluates an ambitious demolition program in Buffalo, NY, USA, that sought, explicitly, to lower the municipality’s overall vacancy rate. Evidence from statistical changepoint models and Granger tests suggest that, while Buffalo’s overall vacancy rate, measured as undeliverable postal addresses, appeared to decrease around the time of the program, the drop was not linked to elevated demolition activity. The same finding holds for the subarea in which demolitions were spatiotemporally clustered. Although this lack of efficacy is potentially because the city failed to demolish its targeted number of structures, we argue that the likelier explanation is that demolition was not part of a holistic planning strategy. These results have important implications for using large-scale demolition programs as standalone vacancy management policies in shrinking cities.



shrinking cities, vacancy, property abandonment, demolitions, systems thinking, policy, Geography and Environmental Studies


Weaver, R., & Knight, J. (2018). Can shrinking cities demolish vacancy? An empirical evaluation of a demolition-first approach to vacancy management in Buffalo, NY, USA. Urban Science, 2(3): 69.


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