Abstract The persistence of vacant land in urban areas exhibits geographic unevenness. While central cities have experienced waves of reinvestment over the past decades, vacant lands often persist in adjacent low-income neighborhoods. Thus a networked local-scale perspective is integral for understanding metropolitan areas. Local scale analyses require an understanding of informal decision-makers and institutions and the ways that they connect more broadly with other actors. Drawing on focus groups with civil society organizations (CSOs) and a neighborhood design/build case study, this paper characterizes “on the ground” perceptions of and responses to vacant lots in urban neighborhoods in order to provide insight into their analysis and management. The fieldwork extends insights from studies of community gardens to suggest that access to and potential ownership of vacant parcels, in addition to the political economic forces driving land-use change, are critical factors that drive vacant land governance at the neighborhood-scale. Public–civic partnerships in weak market areas have the potential to strengthen this access and ownership in a way that improves vacant lot management.