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.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Urban outmigration and the deaccessioning of civic infrastructure: Chicago

Left: a church and school building in Ukrainian Village, Chicago, was put up for option with a minimum bid of $1 million.

This is a subject that is not news.

As residents move out of communities to new communities and population shrinks, the amount of civic infrastructure-schools and other public buildings built by the local government to serve the population, as well as religious facilities serving neighborhoods and communities--churches and schools in particular, present in a community is greater than the need.

As buildings and programs are closed, neighborhoods can be further destabilized.  And empty properties contribute to further disinvestment.

This is an issue in Chicago, as the Chicago Public Schools look to close schools, after already closing schools over the past decade, and as church schools have closed in response to similar conditions.  See "As CPS mulls school closings, study finds city already has plenty of vacant school buildings" from the Chicago Sun-Times.

From the article:

As the Chicago Public Schools system prepares to shutter more schools, a study released Monday concluded that Chicago is already awash in vacant school property for sale, with 24 shuttered CPS sites on the market plus about as many old Catholic schools for sale or lease.

Most of Chicago’s vacant schools have been so for more than 10 years, and the longer schools are empty, the harder it is to sell them, according to the report released by the Pew Charitable Trust ahead of massive school actions expected soon in several major American cities.

“The challenge of finding new uses for old buildings is daunting, and the downside of letting them sit idle can be significant,” according to “Shuttered Public Schools: The Struggle to Bring Old Buildings New Life.”

Philadelphia is expected to close 37 schools by year’s end; Washington, D.C., wants to close more than a dozen.

Note that I do argue, in "Rethinking community planning around maintaining neighborhood civic assets and anchors" that in order to maintain functioning neighborhoods, a basic level of civic services, including high quality neighborhood schools, does need to be provided.

In shrinking communities though, other neighborhood stabilization initiatives need to be adopted as well, focused on attracting additional residents. Some program initiatives that serve as good models are:

-- Health Neighborhoods Initiative, Baltimore
-- Live Baltimore resident recruitment program
-- Vital Neighborhoods Initiative, Philadelphia Preservation Alliance
-- State of Pennsylvania Elm Street Program
-- Community Economic Development Handbook
-- Building Strong Neighbourhoods initiative and the Action for Neighbourhood Change program, United Way of Toronto

With regard to the Pew report, see:

-- "Philadelphia and Other Big Cities Struggle to Find Uses for Closed Schools," Pew Charitable Trusts
-- Shuttered Public Schools: The Struggle to Bring Old Buildings New Life
-- Closing Public Schools in Philadelphia: Lessons from Six Urban Districts

This is the school building attached to the vacant church.  Panoramio photo by Istanoy.

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