We can live in better spaces, if only government would step up.

November 20, 2014


We can live in better spaces, if only government would step up. Sometimes, though, it’s not that simple.


“Governments are always dealing with the most interesting problems,” said Alexander Kapur, CEO of OpportunitySpace. “On the issue of how to create better places to live, work and play, government has so far done this with a very narrow focus — by neighborhood or by block — or they do it on a mega master plan that will never be fulfilled. Now I see a chance to influence what the places around us are going to look like.”


That opportunity comes in the form of land inventories. Cities struggle with development in large part because they simply don’t know what they have. That’s where OpportunitySpace comes in, researching and cataloging sometimes vast unknown landholdings within a municipality.


“A lot of people think of government-held property as fire stations and city hall,” Kapur said. “But that is only a very narrow slice of the story.” Governments may hold tremendous tracts of open space or possess properties taken by eminent domain as far back as the 1880s. They may have purchased waterfront land or industrial sites for forgotten development schemes or acquired property through tax foreclosures or failure to comply with regulations.


It’s not easy to ferret out all this data. Kapur’s team scours asset management information systems, explores tax databases, pulls inventory information from development authorities, pores over Excel documents and wades through paper-jammed filing cabinets.


Even with data in hand, working with governments to turn this information into real-world outcomes can be a bear. Civic real estate processes are protracted, and people get frustrated when they don’t see immediate change. Kapur’s solution has been to find a link to those who care the most.


“There are many well intentioned people in government who are interested in this issue and they tend to be our champions when we go into a new city,” he said. “There is also a lot of civic energy we can harness, to enable partnerships between government and civic organizations that were previously adversarial.”


Land-use transformations don’t happen overnight, but Kapur said OpportunitySpace is helping to get the wheels turning a little bit faster.


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