Our research showed that major metros in the South, West, and Southwest harbor the most vacant lots in their urban cores. While it is not surprising that these cities have utilized the advantages of spacious geography to expand their boundaries outward, it invites the obvious question: why sprawl, if there is still plenty of potential to reinvest in the city core? The answer to that may be more complex than we can approach in this one article, but what we can do is look at the numbers.
In the South, Texas is king—208 acres of undeveloped land are scattered across the central business districts of Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. The least dense CBD in Texas, as well as on our 25-city list, is Dallas, with vacant lots in the urban core adding up to 86 acres. During the past five years, 8.5 million square feet of property has been built in the Dallas central business district—second only to construction activity in NYC, recent Dallas developments included housing, office space, parking, retail, and hotels.
The world-famous entertainment scene that sprawls in the Mojave Desert, brimming with urban development potential, landed second on our list. With 75 acres of vacant lots in its urban core, Las Vegas has one of the least dense central business districts in the country. By stark contrast with the active Dallas landscape, and despite an estimated 8% increase in population since 2010, research shows that property completed here in the past five years was limited to office space and amounted to less than 100,000 square feet, with none currently under construction, and roughly 750,000 square feet more in commercial projects that are either only planned or approved and not yet built.
Austin rounds out the top three, with nearly 71 acres in vacant, unimproved land parcels that are located within its central business district. Texas’ Capital City is one of the country’s fastest growing local economies. Since 2013, over 2 million square feet of new property has been built in the urban core alone. According to our research, over half of this was hotels, with housing, office space and parking structures taking a back seat. Although the city’s 2011 Downtown Plan acknowledges the locals’ increasing desire for sustainable downtown living, and although prime undeveloped land is still available, construction has been somewhat stifled by regulations that do not accommodate modern urban development needs. Perhaps when Austin runs out of city-owned, whole-block-sized parking lots to hand over, urban planning policies and practices will get a much-needed reexamination.