The word blight typically refers to plants that are withered or rotting due to disease. Urban relates to or refers to a city or characteristic of city life. When the two terms are put together, urban blight refers to the deterioration and decay of buildings and older areas of large cities, due to neglect, crime, or lack of economic support.
Urban blight is a typical sight in most US cities, and in many cities throughout the world. As a city gets older, some buildings or properties are not maintained and become run-down, abandoned or condemned. This can also be referred to as urban decay. People who cannot afford to live elsewhere must sometimes live in properties that are without appropriate maintenance, such as housing projects, which may also be called slums or ghettos. The look and condition of these properties, as well as their use can be said to be urban blight.
Urban blight is not simply a cosmetic issue. As homes or properties become condemned and decay they can affect other well-maintained properties surrounding them. Just as blight in plants can affect other healthy plants, urban blight in cities can spread to or affect other properties. They bring down surrounding property values, may become havens for illegal activity like drug dealing, and are more prone to fires, which can spread to other buildings.
Urban blight can also refer to certain unattractive elements in a city not related to actual buildings. For example, in Philadelphia, the Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight (SCRUB) was formed in 1990 to bring down 60 illegal billboards erected throughout the city. They have also fought to keep more billboards from being erected so that the city remains beautiful. To some, like the organizers of SCRUB, urban blight refers to typically urban features that tend to "uglify" a city.
Some smaller cities resist the building of skyscrapers and place limits on the height of buildings because they feel tall buildings are a sign of urban blight. Efforts may also be made in towns and cities to revitalize neighborhoods where there are a number of decaying properties. Such properties may be razed or rebuilt, and parks or new businesses may be established in order to make a neighborhood more attractive.
Other cities may also resist growth past a certain point since they feel this will lead to urban blight. They may restrict the building of new homes on an annual basis, and also place terms on where homes can be built. The goal may be to keep some spaces, like mountain ridges, open and beautiful, as these were key attractions of a city or town to begin with. Some consider former open spaces and mountains now peppered with cookie cutter homes as an example of urban blight.
In any city of a certain age and size, there is likely to be at least some urban blight. It may merely be that growth in the city has reduced its cosmetic value. Alternately, urban blight may reduce property values or pose hazards to law-abiding residents. Many cities attempt to address urban blight, but often funding is limited for such projects. Frequently, it takes a significant effort by citizens and dedicated politicians to raise funds and public interest in eliminating urban blight.