Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A large stock of old buildings and innovative uses: Building Character in Lancaster, PA

Is one of Jane Jacobs four basic precepts:

1. the need for primary mixed uses;
2. the need for small blocks;
3. the need for aged buildings;
4. the need for concentration;

for successful and therefore "Great American Cities."

She argued this not as a historic preservationist but because big old buildings of the time were built to be flexible and adaptable, and buildings "free and clear" of mortgages could be rented out more cheaply than newly constructed buildings.

Almost by definition new or innovative uses need lower rents, in order to be able to experiment and prove out the concept.

One of the factors that makes doing "creative" or innovative "urban" revitalization projects difficult in DC is the fact that as an office, not an industrial, city, for the most part the city doesn't have a large stock of old big buildings to work with, the kinds of buildings that in places like Brooklyn, Manhattan, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or even York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania and other once industrial towns have in abundance.

Those large old buildings can be adaptively reused to support innovative new uses, from businesses still producing items to services like hotels and residential projects. (Of course, the other strike DC has against it is even decrepit buildings have high value and are taxed accordingly and therefore the rents are high, making it hard to support "innovative" uses.)

Antique malls are a form of supporting retail entrepreneurship for proprietors who may not be able to be successful at running a store of their own and they are a good way to "absorb" and bring back large old buildings that may otherwise be too hard to reuse, at least in the intermediate term, as a single use. There are a bunch of such buildings serving as antique malls in Downtown Frederick Maryland for example, activating what would otherwise be big forlorn places.

There aren't many examples of non-antique "sub-store" operations (I hate to call them "malls") that I am familiar with, but one that I like is Building Character in Lancaster, PA.

It's partly a sales gallery for architectural salvage, but there is also spaces filled out with various boutique operations, ranging from someone who sells cards, bags and other items promoting Lancaster neighborhoods to incredibly well curated used clothing stores for men and women and a home store where we knew we could buy some bird houses made of gourds, and is why we went to the store in the first place.

This kind of operation does a few things, all good.

First, it utilizes a building that otherwise might be empty. Second, it supports retail entrepreneurship development generally, but also specifically through relatively low rents (in DC, retail rent in even marginal areas is in excess of $35/s.f.). Third, it provides a great place to shop and activates the retail offer of the commercial district.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home