One abandoned yard is a mess; 20,000 abandoned yards is an ecosystem. At this scale, Cleveland’s vacant land begins to look less like a sign of neglect and more like an ecological experiment spread over some 3,600 acres. As it happens, a team of local scientists has designated this accidental landscape an Urban Long-Term Research Area — that is, Ultra. And having won a $272,000 exploratory award from the National Science Foundation, the researchers call their project Ultra-Ex.
There’s enough turf here for everybody: Ultra-Ex scientists are studying bird and insect populations, watershed systems, soil nematodes and urban farms. Along with its sci-fi name, Ultra-Ex advances a forward-looking mission: to document the ecological benefits that vacant lots might provide and to redefine the land, from neighborhood blight to community asset.