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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Buffalo, New York: Preservation by Neglect

Case in point from the last post. If you don't demolish historic buildings en masse, your city can eventually reap the benefits.

This take on the matter, from a USA Today article entitled "Buffalo charges ahead into the past", I found interesting:

Because there's no reason to tear down a building if there's nothing to replace it, Buffalo has benefited from "preservation by neglect." As Harvey Garrett, a neighborhood preservation activist here, sees it, "Buffalo was rich at just the right time" — 1870-1914, when great architecture was still relatively inexpensive — "and poor at just the right time" — after 1950, when many older buildings in cities with better economies were demolished.

While St. Louis was not "rich" in the modern period (1945-1975), federal monies were flowing in and the city was at its boldest and most progressive peak during this period. This does, of course, explain the part of St. Louis's culture that is so willing to part with old neighborhoods and housing. But countless cities, including ones often considered down-and-out like Buffalo, have done better by taking advantage of being more intact, having fewer interstates and other obstructions in their urban built environment.

My previous post was not meant to condemn St. Louis outright as a place with no hope to improve itself. My point is we have farther to go so we have to push even harder. The neighborhoods that remain preserved in St. Louis are outstanding, but those that are some of the most threatened today (Hyde Park, St. Louis Place) should be some of St. Louis's greatest. We can make this happen with sound urban planning and a refusal to accept mediocrity in urban design in the whole of our city.


Chris said...

My experience in Baltimore gave me the same conclusions: the reason Baltimore didn't demolish much or finish its interstate system was less about progressive thinking and more about incompetent leadership. I know several neighborhoods survived in Washington, DC because they were considered undesirable, while more desirable neighborhoods were clear cut of historic structures.

STLgasm said...

Buffalo is a fine old city, no doubt. However, the residential building stock of St. Louis (however compromised it has become), blows Buffalo's residential architecture out of the water. Like the other Great Lakes cities, Buffalo's vernacular housing is predominantly wood and frame. It is not as handsome or dramatic, and definitely does not hold up as well over time and the elements.

Many would say that St. Louis's stagnancy is the reason so many historic neighborhoods remain today. The property values just weren't high enough to tear them down.

Rick Bonasch said...

Matt -

You made the statement that sound urban planning is the way to secure the future of neighborhoods like Hyde Park and St. Louis Place. Can you be more specific in terms that are sensitive to the way things work in St. Louis?


Matt M. said...

Sure, Rick.

I will make this the subject of a future post.

Rick Bonasch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick Bonasch said...

Cool, what I am most interested in hearing are your thoughts for Hyde Park and St. Louis Place.

In such an old, built up city, we might as well be very specific when we talk about neighborhood redevelopment strategies.

I heard an interesting presentation this week about how city neighborhoods rebuild. The presenter thought about the process in terms of a business plan. He said he starts out by looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

In terms of strengths, he identified jobs, institutional anchors and location. In terms of weaknesses, he basically said every city neighborhoods greatest weakness is the fact that it's in the city. Why? The city has lousy schools, high taxes, concentrated poverty, low educational outcomes among its residents, population loss, abandonment and decline. These issues certainly impact on Hyde Park and St. Louis Place.

So how to overcome these challenges? The presenter said that his approach was to figure out ways to target resources into the neighborhood at a higher than proportionate share than it would get otherwise.

The use of tax abatements, taxes generated through the local employment base or hotel taxes, TIF, and most of all, leveraging the investments of large institutions into the adjacent neighborhood.

Essentially, the point being made was that somehow a neighborhood has to overcome the disadvantages of being in the city if it is going to rebuild. It was an interesting perspective.

Looking at Hyde Park and St. Louis Place, I'm wondering if this approach is applicable? There aren't major institutions or regional anchors nearby, and it is very hard hit by the negatives facing the city including a weak tax base, lots of population loss and a weak overall market.

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