Seed Fund Awardee Tamas Budavari Leverages Research to Support 21st Century Cities Initiative

IDIES Affiliate Professor Budavari’s research into vacant housing dynamics dovetails with Johns Hopkins 21st Century Cities (21CC) Initiative’s goal: to initiate innovative solutions for creating wealth, expanding opportunities, transforming education, promoting well-being and health, strengthening infrastructure, and cultivating the arts in our cities.

With the advent of sensor networks and computerized record keeping of public data, a new branch of data-driven science aimed at improving the quality of city life is emerging, and being integrated into redevelopment policy and administration in government. Macroeconomic and demographic trends have left Baltimore with 300,000 fewer residents than 60 years ago. This depopulation has resulted in more than 16,000 vacant, uninhabitable buildings. These buildings pose significant challenges to the City Leadership, from maintenance and crime to negative perceptions hampering reinvestment. While the preferred outcome for a vacant building is rehabilitation, in many cases demolition of an entire row is the only viable option. Addressing the vacancy crisis is essential to attracting and retaining people in Baltimore.

“Our close collaboration with City Leadership guarantees that we focus on the most relevant high-level questions.”
— Tamas Budavari

The interdisciplinary team has created a novel framework to address the challenges posed by the complex datasets about the city of Baltimore. The team’s approach is to build a unique database of the geometries of all housing lots in the city, then add in layers of pertinent information to study the vacant housing dynamics. The auxiliary data has to include everything from construction permits and violation notices to water usage and calls to emergency services. They use the available information to track each lot’s history from occupied to vacant, rehabilitated, or demolished. With this new system the researchers aim to measure the effects of city interventions and to predict possible outcomes in hypothetical scenarios.

The PIs of the Seed Fund Grant for “Vacant Housing Dynamics in Baltimore City” play key roles in the current development of the recently established 21CC Initiative: Tamas Budavari is member of Steering Committee of 21CC, Kathy Edin is the Director. Michael Braverman is Deputy Commissioner of Baltimore Housing.