Navigating the system for vacant land is tedious but doable. For developers, the time it takes to get title to these properties can often end deals. Fortunately, due to lack of development in recent years, City Hall has shown a renewed interest in making it easier for interested builders to get vacant land. Last week following a forum at Temple University, Councilman Darrell Clark introduced legislation in city council that would give the city powers to seize the assets of property owners who failed to repair blighted properties. Clack took the initiative because he didn't get a sense that these things were being prioritized at a level that he and other members of council were comfortable with. This will take a high level of attention for the city to make significant progress on vacant land management.
One big fix favored by many non-profit developers and policy experts is the creation of a land bank, a central repository of all city-owned land, with one list of available parcels and a single process for acquiring those properties. The city has started by mapping abandonment. This will be a great task but with a lot of effort it can be done. Although there are many agencies that have records of vacant lands, their list don't match up. Some list say there are 40,000 properties, while other say 60,000. Clark and many others would like the city to take immediate action, instead of taking months or years to get the city record books in order.
See Planphilly for a nice article on this issue.