Date of Award

August 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Mark Monmonier

Second Advisor

Jonnell Robinson

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


In the early 1970s, planning and city officials in St. Louis, Missouri were grappling with the consequences of white flight, urban renewal, and a withdrawal of federal funding on the city’s increasingly abandoned and tax delinquent housing stock. In response, the city government implemented a land bank to acquire tax foreclosed housing and other property and re-sell it through an urban homesteading plan. Later that decade, a similar program was implemented in Cleveland, Ohio. By the early 2000’s the land banking idea had transformed from a city agency to a near-governmental non-profit regional organization with the powers to acquire abandoned property and find “productive uses” for it. This dissertation examines the history, development, and current practices of land banking using three case studies: St. Louis, Missouri, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and Syracuse, New York. Based on a combination of archival research, semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and GIS-based property data analyses, I argue that land banks are a consequence of neoliberal state restructuring that has shifted the role of the shadow state towards property governance in post-industrial cities. Through a mission of resisting speculation in vacant housing, land banks further challenge the neoliberal orthodoxy of market-first policies, even while their work still reproduces existing capitalist property relations. Ultimately, land banks fail to take their critique of urban land speculation far enough in developing and articulating appropriate productive uses for their properties. Throughout this analysis, I highlight the centrality of abandoned property in the housing landscapes of post-industrial cities in the U.S.


Open Access