Small+Historic+Preservation = Economic Success

Study

Click for the full study

Ever since a report came out last week arguing that older, smaller, historical districts are what push economic development, Columbia City has been getting a bit of attention for representing exactly what can be done when efforts are made to preserve a neighborhood rather than replace it with large-scale construction and development (although we’ve got our share of that, too).

Knute Berger over at Crosscut has nice summary up of the study and the dialogue that’s been happening since The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s study came out:

Urban advocates have been questioning whether historic preservation is a good thing for cities. Some argue that anything other than maximum densities hurts the environment and makes cities less affordable. You want low rents? Be like Singapore.

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser has argued that preservationists have gone too far, saying that historic districts “freeze” cities and that older, smaller buildings need to be replaced by high-rises. “No living city’s future should become a prisoner to its past,” he has written…

Few people disagree with the idea of saving particular historic landmarks, but the question is, What about commercial districts that can be dramatically redeveloped with greater densities for transit? What about neighborhoods with lots of retail activity which are low-rise, bustling and often full of buildings that are charming and/or useful, but not historic on their own? You see this all over Seattle, from Columbia City to th
e U District, from Broadway to Ballard.

So, the Green Lab study pushes back with new data — they boast using more than 40 metrics — to attempt to quantify comparisons between largely new development zones and mixed or old-style lower-rise commercial areas. They’ve analyzed three cities in depth: San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Seattle because they are robust real estate markets and have the kinds of districts — commercial and historic — that are at the center of urban debate.

What they found is that older districts — take Pike-Pine on Capitol Hill — have fewer chain retailers and restaurants, are more active around the clock (e.g. greater numbers of people using Flicker or making cell phone calls after 10 p.m. on Fridays), have more jobs per commercial square foot than newer development, and have more new businesses than average in the city. A key element is not just old vs. new but having a built environment with variety…

To read the whole piece, click here.

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