Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


This article addresses the phenomenon of abandoned or failed commercial or residential developments, sometimes referred to as “zombie subdivisions” in America, and “ghost developments” in Europe. Both arose as a result of the real estate market disintegration after 2008. Around the world, but particularly in America and in certain European countries, developers ran out of funds and were unable to finish their projects, resulting in non-completed or largely vacant “zombie” or ghost properties. Such abandoned properties can be found throughout America and Europe, but they are more common in particular Intermountain states in the United States, and in Ireland, Spain and Portugal. These once-promising projects present significant challenges to local governments, which often do not have the appropriate resources, planning tools, or local ordinances in place to address these unsightly, economically depressing, unsafe areas. This article examines both the causes and effects of these abandoned, non-completed developments, and compares how America and Europe have had similar, but also distinct experiences. The article suggests that a bottom up, local approach is preferable to one relying on state or national solutions. It also offers lessons to be learned by local governments in America and Europe so as to enable both the removal of these eyesores, and the advancement of policies that avoid the specter of future reappearing zombie or ghost properties.

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