“St. Louis will be on the forefront of finding a sustainable solution to the issue of vacant land by creating an innovative competition that puts ideas into action.”

Hank Webber, Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration, Washington University


The Sustainable Land Lab will be a living laboratory of two-year demonstration projects which will showcase innovative ideas and integrated strategies for transforming one of the St. Louis region’s greatest challenges, vacant land, into an asset that advances sustainability. The Sustainable Land Lab will be initiated through a public competition launched November 2, 2012, as part of the Sustainable Cities Conference, hosted by Washington University in partnership with the City of St. Louis. Teams will compete for the opportunity to demonstrate their ideas through tangible projects at the scale of a single vacant lot.

The Sustainable Land Lab’s demonstration projects will each consist of integrated strategies for urban sustainability issues, such as: Power generation, site remediation, storm water management, economic development, food systems, art, community engagement, and habitat creation. In this inaugural year of the competition, Old North St. Louis will serve as the pilot neighborhood for the Sustainable Land Lab. Teams will have the opportunity to select their project site from six available lots located in close proximity to one another within or directly adjacent to the Crown Square redevelopment.  Up to four demonstration projects will be chosen to receive a two-year lot lease and $5,000 grant toward project implementation.


  • Raise awareness and foster public dialogue about the challenges and opportunities of vacant land, and reimagining it as a regional asset
  • Spur innovative and replicable ideas for using vacant land to advance environmental, social, and economic sustainability
  • Create tangible demonstration projects that:
    showcase interim and/or potential long-term uses of vacant lots
    provide ongoing opportunities for public education
    provide opportunities for data collection and observation of the impact of the solutions
  • Build on and catalyze further neighborhood revitalization efforts in and around the project area
  • Spark increased demand for creative, smart, and sustainable uses of under-utilized land in other neighborhoods


The City of St. Louis estimates more than 10,000 vacant parcels have come into its ownership through tax foreclosure — and nearly 20 percent of all property within city limits is vacant. Approximately 8,000 of the City-owned parcels are vacant lots without any structures. The map on the following page illustrates the extent of the vacant land challenge in the City of St. Louis. Concentrations of vacant and/or underutilized land are closely interrelated with detrimental social, economic, and environmental impacts, including depressed property values, high prevalence of crime, environmental hazards, and additional disinvestment. All of these outgrowths of abandonment raise costs for local and regional governments and weaken our ability to attract and retain businesses and residents in our area. The vast number of vacant lots, buildings, and commercial areas in the St. Louis region is a compelling indicator suggesting a need to embrace additional and alternative approaches to urban land use.

While there aren’t any quick solutions to such a multi-faceted issue, case studies across the U.S. show that a shift in public thinking and policy around the  highest and best use of these properties presents a major opportunity for innovation. Repurposing vacant land for environmentally, socially, and/or economically productive uses, whether interim or long-term, can have transformative impacts on the health and vitality of neighborhoods, the City, and the region.


Team registrants must be 18 years or older and able to sign lease agreement.

Only one entry per team will be accepted.

This is an open call for projects:  individuals, teams, community groups, for-profit companies and non-profit organizations are all encouraged to enter.

Although individuals may apply, the competition sponsors encourage multidisciplinary teams, in order to promote the most creative solutions to the multi-faceted issues of vacancy. Members could include architects, landscape architects, urban planners, geographers, botanists, sculptors, sociologists, engineers, ecologists, zoologists, geologists, historians, agronomists, photographers, horticulturists, gardeners, hydrologists, historians, artists, etc.  Connections to potential professional advisors may be found through organizations such as the St. Louis chapters of American Institute of Architects, American Society of Landscape Architects, American Planning Association, the Urban Land Institute, and U.S. Green Building Council.


There are three rounds of jury review, including:

Round 1: Up to 15 teams will be chosen to move forward to round two.  Select round one submissions will be included in a public exhibition at the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group gallery, February 1 – 28, 2013.

Round 2: Up to 8 teams will be chosen to move forward to round three.  All round two submissions will be included in a public exhibition at the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group gallery, February 1 – 28, 2013.

Round 3: Up to 4 teams will be chosen for winning awards.  All competition winners will present at final public event, April 11, 2013.

Winning Awards:
Up to four winning teams will receive:
$5,000 grant
2 Year land lease for chosen lot


Chip Crawford, Senior Principal, Forum Studio

Rodney Crim, Executive Director of the St. Louis Development Corporation, City of St. Louis

Bruce Lindsey, Dean of Architecture, Washington University

Sean Thomas, Executive Director, Old North St. Louis Restoration Group

Hank Webber, Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration, Washington University

Catherine Werner, Director of Sustainability, City of St. Louis


The Sustainable Land Lab is a significant undertaking, which has and will continue to require ideas, insight, and support from a variety of regional leaders.  Advisory Committee members have played and will continue to play a variety of roles, including: providing support in the development of the competition, serving as a technical resource for the jury and the competition teams, and serving as ambassadors for the Sustainable Land Lab projects as they move from ideas to implementation.

Stephen Acree, RHCDA

Michael R. Allen, Preservation Research Office

Zack Boyers, U.S. Bank

Laura Costello, St. Louis Land Reutilization Agency

Elizabeth Graff, Executive Dir., ASLA, St. Louis

Tammika Hubbard, Alderwoman

Alex Ihnen, nextSTL

Ken Kranzberg

Mary Ann Lazarus, HOK

Jill McGuire, RAC

Don Roe, City of St. Louis, Planning & Urban Design Agency

David Stiffler, Equifax

David Wilson, East-West Gateway

Otis Williams, St. Louis Development Corporation


The Sustainable Land Lab Competition was developed through a partnership between Washington University and the City of St. Louis. The inaugural year of this competition was made possible through support from the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and Equifax.

Support from additional project partners and sponsors is growing, and currently includes:

American Society of Landscape Architects, St. Louis Chapter
City of St. Louis Development Corporation
City of St. Louis Planning & Urban Design Agency
Preservation Research Office
Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance