Revisiting Revitalization: Community Health Lessons from Baltimore’s Vacants to Value Initiative

By Yeeli Mui, PhD, MPH, University at Buffalo, State University of New York; Brian Bieretz, MA, Urban Institute; Joel Gittelsohn, PhD, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Joseph Schilling, JD, LLM, Urban Institute

Neighborhoods undergo constant change when local governments, philanthropists, and community organizations invest resources to mitigate declining trajectories. The success of such efforts, however, is often measured in economic terms, such as through property value increases, with less attention to the health of residents who remain in the community.

This research aims to shift those priorities by examining a range of community health impacts from a strategic revitalization effort in Baltimore City: the Vacants to Value (V2V) initiative. While local studies have assessed some dimensions of the V2V initiative, including process and policy effectiveness, the initiative’s community health impacts have yet to be explored. To address this gap, the research team developed three case examples of V2V in different neighborhoods in order to examine communities’ expectations, engagement with V2V, and how community health could be better achieved. The report offers a preliminary scan of V2V’s community health impacts, to set the stage for a future Health Impact Assessment (HIA), a tool commonly used by planners and other decision-makers to evaluate potential positive and negative public health impacts of a plan, policy, or initiative.

This report includes five sections:

Section 1 provides a brief literature review on the relationships between vacant properties and community health, summarizes prior studies of the V2V initiative, and explains the usefulness of Health Impact Assessments in the context of neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Section 2 describes the methodology of this study.

Based on our cross-case analysis, Section 3 compares findings regarding V2V’s community health impacts across three communities.

Section 4 proposes a framework for a future Health Impact Assessment of new Community Development Clusters that V2V decision-makers can use before the start of revitalization efforts.

Section 5 offers recommendations to local government for strengthening V2V’s revitalization process by advancing community health in more place- and health-conscious ways in the future.

Finally, the Annex of the report includes a deep dive into community health lessons from Baltimore City’s V2V initiative in three different neighborhoods:

1. Restoring the Social Fabric: Challenges and Opportunities to Strengthen the Revitalization Process and Community Health in Park Heights, Baltimore

2. Community-Driven Revitalization: Building on Historic Strengths to Restore and Preserve Community Health in Eager Street Commons, Baltimore

3. Coalition of the Willing: Advancing Community Health Through Collaborative Revitalization in Greenmount West, Baltimore