Friday, July 24, 2009

How Demolition is an inffective in Urban Renewal

One of the over-riding issues in the Urban Preservation Community is the issue of demolition as they are currently used in "nuisance abatement". Most major American cities and most urban planners have abandoned the idea of bulldozing property to eliminate blight. Unfortunately Cincinnati after missing out on the urban Renewal of the 1960's and 1971's and having relatively intact Urban Neighborhoods filled with historic homes, it now seems bent on repeating the same mistake as Detroit and other American Cities di 30 years ago.

Part of the problem is approach. Cincinnati takes the "quick fix' approach of resorting to a bulldozer when negotiation with difficult or out of state property owners break down. Most cities have embarked on a different approach of making repairs, placing liens, filing court cases then "land banking" those properties and reselling them with protective covenants or turning them over to local community development groups to find buyers or to redevelop them. In most cities the idea of tearing down a 100 plus yr old house would be met with outrage from its citizens. The fact it doesn't happen it Cincinnati tells me that we the preservation community haven't done as good a job as we should on educating the public and many of the Community Council groups, that saving these historic properties is far preferable to bulldozing them and makes for a better stronger , more viable community.

Case in point, Knox Hill. This neighborhood is at a tipping point (much like OTR) It has lost significant properties in some areas while other parts of the neighborhood are relatively intact. By reversing a trend to demo and pushing preservation the neighborhood can not only come back but attract new development on the lots already vacant and through effective planning can become a valuable asset to the city and the tax base. At present these blocks have substantial restoration and some restoration opportunities available.

To illustrate my point. This is a aerial view of the 1800 Block of Knox and Fairmount. It looks relatively intact and in fact some of the vacant lots have been bought by adjacent property owners and maintained. Unfortunately some are still in limbo.

The next photo "reds" out those vacant lots. as you can see there is some loss but its not substantial and the addition of a few infill homes will make the neighborhood whole again. Note the letter designations: "X" are recent Demo "P" are pending that are in the city system.

This last photo in this set shows the Total loss (in WHITE) if Properties with VBML Vacant Property Maintenance License are included and eventually demoed, as advocated by the South Fairmount Community Council ( which does not speak for we the residents of Knox Hill) As you can see at present this would result in a substantial loss of neighborhood fabric. It would likely cause further decline , as many of these lots would be tied up for year and only cut by the city as a last resort. To look at the devastating effects of prolonged policies of demolition we do not have to go far down the street. In the 1700 block of Knox we have a substantial loss (IN RED). Several of these were large Victorian and Federal era homes on large lots ( all with historic value by the way). Here we see the loss of property more clearly and the neighborhood has lost much Urban Neighborhood identity. The remaining homes are clustered into small groups or completely surrounded by large tracts of vacant lots. This no longer looks like a neighborhood.But this is not irreversible. Given the several 'estate size lots a small developer could come in and build and with some more dense urban townhouse development on the south side of Knox the neighborhood would be turned around
If we go to the 1600 block of Knox and Waverly below it The devastation is almost total. There is no semblance of a neighborhood. Only a few homes and many of those are vacant. If the neighborhood further west can be restored and property values go up Eventually these lots which have "million dollar Mt Adams" views of the city will be redeveloped.
The 1500 N Blocks of Knox and and Waverly show the most common losses typical throughout the South Fairmount neighborhood. 25-30 percent houses 70 percent vacant lots. Neighborhoods are unsustainable at this rate of occupancy and loss, many houses vacant There is little sense of neighborhood and the city continues to demo because of the South Fairmount Community Councils 'mis-guided" idea that this helps the neighborhood.

This trend can be reversed, Had the city kept houses and landbanked it it would have been far easier. Now it will take substantial investment by developers to create infill homes. If the city worked with a the neighborhood they could create 'development tracts" and offer incentives to builders to come in and build new market rate homes. Given the views in these areas homes could easily be built in the 150-300K range and be viable, It will take many years to turn around the eastern edge of the Knox Hill Neighborhood but if the western end is preserved and restored and property values go up this land becomes economically viable for development. Perhaps the best example would be the Klotter Street area in Clifton/ N Brewery district where existing houses have been restored and new luxury infill built.

What we need is for city leaders to come to the table, with the Knox Hill Neighborhood Association and develop a comprehensive redevelopment plan that preserves existing homes, keeps long term elderly residents in the neighborhood while bringing in fresh people. For a neighborhood minutes from the downtown core. the area is ripe for redevelopment but it will take city leaders with a vision to work with the neighborhood and for preservationists to convince people the area is viable for redevelopment. The first step is a moratorium on demolitions. The second step is adopting the Knox Hill "Save not Raze" program and lastly understand that the Community Council groups are not necessarily in touch with the wishes of the residents and the changing reality in certain parts of the neighborhood and the city needs to negotiate with individual associations and block clubs for effective community redevelopment to occur.

1 comment:

Rick said...

I couldn't agree more! What a waste of a city and it's resources.