These maps visualize Baltimore's blight - Baltimore


Jun. 4, 2015 10:20 am

These maps visualize Baltimore’s blight

An economist and a civic data enthusiast look at Baltimore's vacant properties through different lenses.

Baltimore's abandoned properties are a major problem.

(Photo by Flickr user cranky messiah, used under a Creative Commons license)

The prevalence of blight and vacant housing in Baltimore is one of the city’s bellwether issues.

Seeing entire blocks of boarded-up houses, like the one across from the Western District Police Station where many Freddie Gray-related protests took place, makes the problem highly visible. And vacant houses tell the story of Baltimore City’s struggles. They are directly connected not only to poverty and disinvestment, but also the crime that can take root in the empty properties.

One way to look at just how deep the problem goes is to map it.

Last week, INSEAD economist Amine Ouazad produced a map that made the rounds on outlets like The Atlantic’s CityLab. The map shows the number of Baltimore vacant properties, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data. The 2010 Census put the number of vacant houses at just north of 16,000.

To magnify Baltimore’s blight, Ouazad includes data for the entire metro area. The result is a fairly stark difference between the City and surrounding counties.

And, as Ouazad notes in a blog post, the two areas aren’t that far apart geographically.

“Interestingly, Rosedale is a more than 70% white and middle-class suburb, which sits right next to inner-city neighborhoods where a fifth to a quarter of all houses are vacant,” he writes.

Amine Ouazad map

Amine Ouazad’s map of Baltimore vacant houses. Dark red represents the highest density of vacants.

But Ouazad’s map doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In 2012, local GIS specialist Elliott Plack produced a map that plots all of the city’s vacant houses.


And the visualization is ongoing. Justin Elszasz, who works with civic data at The Training Set, has also been tackling blight data. Like Plack, Elszasz turned to Baltimore City’s open data portal. Mapping only the city in “heatmap” style shows some of the same stark divides that Ouazad notes, only it becomes more clear that they’re visible within city limits, as well as across the county line. Elsasz also includes vacant lots, which he numbers at more than 17,000.

Taking things a step further, Elsasz also looked at the proximity of vacant houses to schools.

“The analysis suggests that about 68% of all vacant buildings in Baltimore are within a quarter mile of a city school, while about 27% of all vacant parcel area is within the same distance,” Elszasz writes.

Kids’ everyday proximity to the abandoned property is an “emergency of the highest order,” Elszasz writes, but also a fact that suggests it might be time to give the properties to schools that can do something with it.

Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is Market Editor for Baltimore and DC. A graduate of Northeastern University, he moved to Baltimore following stints in New Orleans and Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Baltimore Fishbowl, NOLA Defender, Times-Picayune and the Rio Grande Sun.

  • In Elsasz’s map of schools and vacants, the railyards and rail right of ways should be excluded, as they don’t really fall into the same category as true “vacant” property. Also, don’t forget which is updated with a live feed directly from Baltimore’s Open Data portal.

  • ecogordo

    Blight. Baltimore has it, DC has it, Philly has it, even NYC. So what would happen if Baltimore was yanked up and placed down in Mexico City where people live in tin shacks? How long do you think those vacant row houses would be vacant? I would give it a week. We can’t fix up Baltimore’s vacants, but if 50,000 people from Mexico City were invited to live in Baltimore and given $15,000 each to live in and fix up a vacant, problem solved. Time to get creative Baltimore.


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