Land Bank Conference 2013 Recap

by Brian McGrain, Associate Director/Chief Operating Officer for CEDAM

Last week, Jamie Schriner-Hooper and I had the opportunity to attend the 7th Annual Land Bank Conference, hosted by the Center for Community Progress in Kalamazoo. Though originally conceived of as a Michigan-centric conference, this event has grown in scope to take in a larger regional – and even national – audience as it seeks to provide practitioners with information on best practices taking place within and outside of Michigan.

As a bit of background, land banks were initially conceived as a means for local governments to assemble and hold on to abandoned and tax foreclosed properties for future development use. As the number of land banks in the state has grown, so too has their mission. County land banks now acquire, hold, manage, sell and actively develop the property in their portfolios, and some have even gone beyond that to support community gardening, green space development, commercial development, bike share programs and so forth. Land banks in Michigan have grown to become significant players in our state’s community economic development industry.

Sessions offered at the conference dealt with a number of topics. Some were geared toward communities just starting out with their land banks; others were aimed at Board members, elected officials and others partners involved outside of the staff level. Additional topics talked about the innovative practices being adopted by some land banks. Plenary speakers dealt with topics ranging from federal policy (EPA Assistant Administrator Matty Stanislaus), landscape and human ecology (Scott Bishop, Associate Principal at Boston firm Stoss Landscape Urbanism), and the fate and rediscovery of our older industrial urban cores (Hunter Morrison of the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium).

CEDAM was a partner in the production of this conference, having served in the capacities of planner, presenter and exhibitor. Jamie and I used our time at the conference to both learn from and share with others about the work of traditional community economic development organizations and the work of these newer land banks while Jamie presented on CEDAM’s latest collaborative project, the Michigan Vacant Property Campaign. As land banks continue to be a valued partner and asset in the redevelopment of the communities in which our members work (indeed, several land banks are active members of CEDAM), we will continue to forge partnerships that support and bring together various entities who share the same interests as CEDAM: supporting locally-driven, community-based, economic development.