Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Friday, September 12, 2014

Variety is the spice of life

Read this now, before EVERY building and lot in our Town Centers is "revitalized" - bought by the city at a high price, sold to a developer at a low price who also gets a wad of freebies in urban renewal funds, with lot scraped bare and replaced by something in the "Lake Oswego Style."   All of this is deemed progress and the word "vibrant" (ugh!) is used a lot,l and it keeps people in Lake Oswego city government employed and amused and developers rich, so it continues.  But as this article tells us, the end result may not be so "vibrant" after all.

Our very strong mid-century past is something most towns don't have, and yet the city doesn't even recognize that it exists.  If we don't quit this urban renewal shell game, we will have lost our history and will find ourselves with one of those plastic, unauthentic, Disneyland towns where everything is new and not so appealing after all - just creepy.  It's not just new buildings that attract people, it's the right kind of shops and the jumble of old and new and types of shopping that makes a lively atmosphere.  So keep our history "vibrant" in order to keep our town alive.  (Is it time to put the urban renewal debt-machine to bed?)

                                                       Elm wood Village in Buffalo, NY

In Building Size and Age, Variety Yields Vibrancy

    Why is it that neighborhoods with older, smaller buildings often seem more vibrant than those with larger, newer ones? Historic preservationists have long argued that older structures play a crucial role in contributing to the livability of cities and the health of local economies. Most preservationists are familiar with Jane Jacobs’s book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she argues that large-scale demolition and replacement of older, smaller buildings with large new structures drains the life and vitality from urban neighborhoods.
     Successful urban revitalization is seldom about the one big project. More likely, it is about a lot of little projects that work together synergistically to create a place where people want to be.
    But the world has changed a lot since Jacobs penned her thesis. What role do older neighborhoods and smaller buildings play in 21st-century cities? According to a study recently released by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green Lab, “older buildings draw more shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, [and] small businesses owned by women and minorities and jobs” than newer neighborhoods. The study, Older, Smaller, Better: Measuring How the Character of Buildings and Blocks Influences Urban Vitality, found that “on a per-square-foot basis, small-building corridors have a larger concentration of jobs, businesses, and creative-sector employment than downtown skyscrapers.”

    None of this is meant to imply that we don’t need new buildings. Of course we do. But it does demonstrate that smaller, older buildings and blocks “punch above their weight class” when one is considering the full spectrum of outcomes on the per-square-foot basis. Cities need older buildings as well as new ones, and neighborhoods with small-scale historic buildings can be economic and cultural powerhouses when given a chance to survive and evolve.

    The report also suggests that the “one-big-thing model of economic development” is often not as cost-effective as supporting the bottom-up revitalization of existing historic neighborhoods like Elmwood Village in Buffalo. Successful urban revitalization is seldom about the one big project. More likely, it is about a lot of little projects that work together synergistically to create a place where people want to be.

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