High-Rise Cities: Is New Construction Threatening Old Homes?
Building the Future While Preserving the History of America’s Cities
America is currently in the midst of a post-recession building boom. Many of our cities are in the middle of a radical transformation that replaces many single family homes and historic buildings with high-rise and multi-family mixed use buildings of all shapes and sizes. While some are opposed to this change, afraid that the character of our cities is being lost in the bargain, many are in favor of adding more housing units to existing neighborhoods to help control the rental market while reducing urban sprawl.
Change can be for the better or for the worse. If cities are exercising good planning to ensure that they are growing in ways that plan for the future while preserving their histories, there is nothing wrong with growth and change. If that growth and change is coming at the expense of the character and historic significance of buildings and neighborhoods, than the desired outcome may come at a cost that generations to come may not realize they are paying.
A Question of Nostalgia and Money
In many hot urban markets, where both real estate and rental inventory are near historic lows, redeveloping existing properties—whether they are currently vacant lots or the site of historic homes or other buildings, is rapidly becoming more and more of a lucrative venture. In some cities, like Portland, Oregon, buying property and planning to demolish old or historic homes may be enough to net real estate investors a profit as community groups and private citizens rally around old homes and buy them back from developers. The powerful emotions that many feel for older homes and other historic buildings is turning inner city development into a fight between nostalgia and money in many parts of the country.
The Rent Control Argument and The Future of Cities
Government mandated rent control is a hot subject in many of the nation’s cities. Those that don’t have rent control programs in place are considering them in the face of rising rents and rising homelessness, while in many of the cities that do have rent control programs some developers and landlords are resorting to less than ethical practices to displace rent controlled tenants in order to redevelop properties and attract higher revenue generating renters.
One of the most powerful arguments to be made for the redevelopment of old properties with large single-family dwellings is that a high-rise or other multi-family development takes up the same footprint as one or two lots in the inner city while providing many more units in the rental market. And it’s simple economics that the more available rental inventory there is, the lower rents will go. Redeveloping inner city single-family lots can provide organic rent control that doesn’t require government enforcement.
Controlling Urban Sprawl and the Environment
Another factor that contributes to the argument for redeveloping inner-city properties, regardless of their nostalgic or historic value, is our ongoing concern for the environment. There’s no real way around the argument that cities pollute. And, the bigger a city is, the more it pollutes and infringes upon the open green space surrounding it. One terrific way for a city to grow without increasing its literal and environmental footprint is to grow vertically, rather than horizontally.
The City of the Future
The city of the future needs to respect its past. There is room for both development and preservation in every city in this nation. However, finding balance between positive growth and the preservation of history will come with some challenging decisions. The arguments for development are economic and environmental, while the arguments for preservation are more nostalgic and emotional. Regardless, some semblance of balance that allows for a city to preserve its history, its soul, while growing in a way that serves all of its citizens is the ideal that the cities of the future must embrace.
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