Thursday, April 9, 2009

Gated Communities as a Urban redevelopment tool?

Ok before all you "Anti-gentrificationist" start venting, I pose this question from the perspective of: 'if the goal is to restore and redevelop an area could privately developed "gated communities' work in Cincinnati and specifically areas like OTR and West End?"

In some respects Cincinnati already has Urban gated communities. Whether they are called it or not, the condo developments in OTR are essentially "gated communities', enclaves of similar socio economic people who have banded together in a common building behind security gates, cameras and intercoms to experience "Urban Living". These are by definition "gated communities'.

We also have another example of gated community, but that "gating" if you will, is more visually engineered gating than anything else and it is that urban planning strategy that creates a sense of a gated community and of course I am referring to Findlay market. Elder street is closed off at both ends to vehicle traffic and you have parking lots that service the area off Findlay. In many respects it too is an enclave, a place where people 'feel safe' not because it is gated but it has the feeling of being a 'world apart' from the squalor that surrounds it. People pull into the parking lot, exit their cars and go the market. The "gate" is physiological but is there non-the-less. How often do you see the 'suburban' patrons, out for an 'experience in the hood' leave the 'safe confines' of the market area and go wandering down Race or Vice to see Washington Park? You don't. Lets face it, go to the market on any weekend and you will see them. They go to the "end' of Elder at
Race or Elm and you see them stare wistfully down the street, wondering what it would be like to see those great old historic buildings up close not as blur at 40 miles and house as they drive by, windows rolled , doors locked in their Volvo or Lexus once their shopping at Findlay is done.
And that brings me to raise a question would people 'consider" OTR if they felt safe in a gated community. No one talks about it, at least openly, but none wants a derelict sitting on their front
porch or someone from a halfway house rummaging through their garbage or even worse in their backyard. People never say it but they don't want that part of the 'urban experience' but if they felt safe would live in OTR in heartbeat, to avoid the long commute and the growing congestion of suburbia.

Gated communities in Urban setting already have a precedent in other cities.
The historic Caraleigh Mills Condominiums in Raleigh, an old cotton mill was restored and new infill townhomes built around it and the entire community is surrounded by a gate.

There is a community called The Battery at Paces Ferry in Vinings that is a "new/old' neighborhood of historic look alike homes in historic Vinings GA. While all new construction you could argue you could do the same thing with a block of restorations.
So could "gating techniques' be used in Urban neighborhoods in Cincinnati to spur redevelopment? It is an interesting proposition. Were a developer able to acquire a city block of property, build an underground parking garage with a private gated community park in the middle would people buy it? If a developer could acquire property on both sides of a side street, close that street off to "outsiders" and gate it would people pay 500K for a restored brownstone? I bet they would. Especially if they could hop a streetcar and get downtown.
Of course the outcry would be huge! The idea of 'closing off' the 'well off' from the rest of the " have nots"! The ostracizing of the OTR social services agencies and the constitutional freedom of drug addicted homeless people to dig through garbage without barriers.
But seriously, don't you know allot of people who live in suburbia who have said "I don't know why you live in the city, would probably jump at the chance to do so if they only felt safe?
And would that gate even need to be permanent? As more development happens, as more restoration happens, as you get new infil development and people 'feel' safe, the need for those gates would perhaps disappear.


Anonymous said...

You view of redevelopment seems to be purely economic and physical in nature and disregards any need for social improvements.

Paul Wilham said...

Quite the contrary , I have worked with community groups for years of communities of people conncerned about their neighborhood of differing socio economic backgrounds. However I have no sympathy for running drug dealer and thieves out of a neighborhood.

There is a reality that the poor cannot, by themselves, turn around a neighborhood, It takes financial investment to improve the quality of life and foster a safe crime free environment. It take strong advocates so the poor dont get pushed out and education that their homes have real value and they shouldn't take what they think is a sweet deal. I think economically and social diverse neighborhoods are wonderful.