Urban vacant lots are often a contentious feature in cities, seen as overgrown, messy eyesores that plague neighborhoods. We propose a shift in this perception to locations of urban potential, because vacant lots may serve as informal greenspaces that maximize urban biodiversity while satisfying residents’ preferences for their design and use. Our goal was to assess what kind of vacant lots are ecologically valuable by assessing their biotic contents and residents’ preferences within a variety of settings. We surveyed 150 vacant lots throughout Baltimore, Maryland for their plant and bird communities, classified the lot’s setting within the urban matrix, and surveyed residents. Remnant vacant lots had greater vegetative structure and bird species richness as compared to other lot origins, while vacant lot settings had limited effects on their contents. Residents preferred well-maintained lots with more trees and less artificial cover, support of which may increase local biodiversity in vacant lots. Collectively, we propose that vacant lots with a mixture of remnant and planted vegetation can act as sustainable urban greenspaces with the potential for some locations to enhance urban tree cover and bird habitat, while balancing the needs and preferences of city residents.
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