Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2020, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (4): 669-687.doi: 10.1007/s11442-020-1749-0

• Regular Articles • Previous Articles    

Urban vacant land in growing urbanization: An international review

SONG Xiaoqing1,2, WEN Mengmeng1, SHEN Yajing1, FENG Qi1, XIANG Jingwei3, ZHANG Weina2, ZHAO Guosong1, WU Zhifeng4   

  1. 1. Research Center for Spatial Planning and Human-Environment System Simulation, School of Geography and Information Engineering, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan 430074, China
    2. Hunan Key Laboratory of Land Resources Evaluation and Utilization, Hunan Planning Institute of Land and Resources, Changsha 410007, China
    3. School of Public Administration, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan 430074, China
    4. School of Geographical Sciences, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China
  • Received:2019-11-14 Accepted:2019-12-30 Online:2020-04-25 Published:2020-06-25
  • About author:Song Xiaoqing (1984-), PhD and Associate Professor, specialized in human-environment transition, spatial planning, and multifunctional land management. E-mail:
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(41871094);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41401191);Fund from Humanities and Social Sciences of Ministry of Education Planning(18YJAZH078);Key Research and Development Program of Hunan Province(2019SK2101);The Scientific Research Program of Department of Natural Resources of Hunan Province(2017TP1029);The Open Fund of Hunan Key Laboratory of Land Resources Evaluation and Utilization(SYS-MT-201902)


Urban growth and shrinkage constitute the overall pattern of growing urbanization across the globe. Studies on urban vacant land (UVL) are few, and have proved to be mainly rudimentary and subjective. This paper first presents the definition of UVL based on bibliometric analysis. Typology, morphology, proximate causes, and the multiple functions of UVL are then analyzed at parcel, transect, city, and national levels based on an international review. Results show that UVL can be categorized by land cover, land usage, and land ownership. Worldwide, UVL has been widespread and extensive. For example, the occurrence probabilities of UVL in the cases of Guangzhou and New York are 8.46%-8.88% and 3.17%-5.08%, respectively. The average vacancy rate of residential land amounts to 11.48% in 65 U.S. cities. Generally, UVL shows fragmentation and irregular shape, and significant spatial differences exist at parcel, transect, city, and national levels. Proximate causes, such as excessive land division, irregularly shaped land parcels, decreases in resident population, deindustrialization, land speculation, insufficient investment, and environmental concerns, can all result in UVL. Currently, UVL has become a gray area of social, economic, and ecological space. However, it can also be considered a potential resource for enhancing urban sustainability. Policy implications to promote urban sustainability using monitoring, control, and differential revitalization of UVL are presented.

Key words: urban vacant land, urbanization, shrinking cities, land use, transition