Urban vacant lands impart hydrological benefits across city landscapes

Christa Kelleher, Heather E. Golden, Sean Burkholder, William Shuster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Cities evolve through phases of construction, demolition, vacancy, and redevelopment, each impacting water movement at the land surface by altering soil hydrologic properties, land cover, and topography. Currently unknown is whether the variable physical and vegetative characteristics associated with vacant parcels and introduced by demolition may absorb rainfall and thereby diminish stormwater runoff. To investigate this, we evaluate how vacant lots modulate citywide hydrologic partitioning by synthesizing a novel field dataset across 500+ parcels in Buffalo, New York, USA. Vacant lot infiltration rates vary widely (0.001 to 5.39 cm h−1), though parcels are generally well-vegetated and gently sloped. Extending field estimates to 2400 vacant parcels, we estimate that vacant lands citywide may cumulatively infiltrate 51–54% additional annual rainfall volume as compared to pre-demolition state, in part by reducing and disconnecting impervious areas. Our findings differentiate vacant lots as purposeful landscapes that can alleviate large water fluxes into aging wastewater infrastructure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1563
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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