By Robert Silverman, Professor, University at Buffalo
Kelly Patterson, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo
Li Yin, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo

Our article, “Dawn of the Dead City” was first published in the Journal of Urban Affairs (JUA) in 2013. It was recently resurrected in the May 2016 virtual issue of the journal. The article examined residential vacancy patterns in Buffalo, NY between 2008 and 2010. One of the main foci of the article was to refine approaches for measuring housing vacancy and abandonment in order to gain insights into the neighborhood effects of derelict property. This was accomplished using: HUD Aggregate USPS Administrative Data on Address Vacancies, the American Community Survey (ACS) five year estimates, housing choice voucher (HCV) records, and municipal in rem property records. Multivariate analysis identified significant relationships between vacancy patterns, socio-economic characteristics, and institutional factors.

Through this analysis we identified a new type of derelict property unique to older core cities, which we labeled zombie properties. The defining characteristics of these properties are long-term vacancy and abandonment in segregated neighborhoods experiencing sustained population loss and socio-economic despair. We also observed that the clustering of zombie properties had a contagious effect, putting once vibrant neighborhoods in a state of perpetual dystopian limbo.

Since the publication of the article, the zombie nomenclature that we helped pioneer has gained currency across academic and mainstream media outlets. Our article has been cited in: Housing Policy Debate, Cities, Progress in Planning, and other peer reviewed publications. Google searches for “zombie properties” return headlines in media outlets like the: New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Christian Science Monitor.

Ironically, we also observed that neighborhoods overwhelmed by zombie properties buttressed others in the urban core that have become centers for eds and meds revitalization. There is growing recognition that anchor-based revitalization strategies in core cities have not fully addressed growing inequity in society. Increasingly, scholars have come to the conclusion that some of these efforts have actually aggravated inequality and promoted the emergence of a polarized spatial landscape where nodes of revitalization are surrounded by neighborhoods that have been overrun by zombie properties.

We believe that “Dawn of the Dead City” helped prompt a broader discussion of the relationship between segregation, socio-economic inequality, and the landscape of property abandonment in the contemporary city. The resurrection of the article in the May 2016 JUA virtual issue promises to expose a broader audience to this pivotal analysis.

The May 2016 Virtual Issue on Global Urban Change is available on the web, with articles accessible without a JUA subscription for a limited time.