The Atlas of ReUrbanism: Buildings and Blocks in American Cities

By Margaret O'Neal posted 11-17-2016 09:29

  

As the National Trust’s ReUrbanism initiative seeks to support the successful, inclusive, and resilient cities of tomorrow, the Atlas of ReUrbanism is a tool to help urban leaders and advocates better understand and leverage the opportunities that exist in American cities.

The Atlas makes the massive amount of data currently available about cities more accessible, allowing for the exploration and discovery of connections between older buildings and economic, demographic, and environmental outcomes. Whether you’re a mayor, planner, developer, activist, or journalist, the Atlas contains useful information about the businesses and residents, buildings and blocks that make cities work for everyone.

Building on the Old, Connecting with the New

Previous Preservation Green Lab research demonstrates the importance of older, smaller buildings to the fabric of successful cities—statistically linking the social, environmental, and economic performance of San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington, D.C., to the built characteristics of their older and historic economic corridors. The Atlas takes this methodology to a new level, incorporating more indicators and more cities to allow in-depth analysis, exploration, and comparison among a range of urban geographies.

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Louisville, KY | Credit: Andy Snow

Published today, the Atlas Summary Report includes data on more than 10 million buildings, measuring the impact of building and block character on a wide variety of indicators in 50 cities across the country. Interactive maps and printable fact sheets highlighting the performance of the built environment in the five largest municipalities are now available.

High-Character Fabric Delivers Density, Diversity, and Distinctiveness

Compared to areas characterized by large, new, similarly aged construction, high–Character Score areas are vital in various ways

  • In New York, there are more racially and ethnically diverse populations, more than twice as many jobs in new and small businesses, and nearly twice as many women- and minority-owned businesses in high-character blocks.
  • For Los Angeles, high-character areas have more than twice as many affordable rental housing units and more than twice the number of women and-minority-owned businesses.
  • Chicago has a 25 percent greater stock of affordable rental housing and 65 percent more population density in areas with older, smaller, and mixed-age buildings.
  • Houston sees a greater mix of residents of all ages and stages of life and nearly 50 percent more women and-minority-owned businesses in its high-character buildings and blocks.
  • Philadelphia has seen nearly $2 billion in private investment through rehabilitation tax credits and its high character areas have more than twice the number of jobs in new and small business in Philadelphia.

Information about additional cities will roll out regularly throughout 2017, so check back often.

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New York City

Older Buildings Are Critical Assets for Successful Cities

The Atlas of ReUrbanism provides city leaders and urban advocates a new way to understand the value of older fabric to their cities success; to leverage existing assets and identify areas of opportunity for new growth; and to make smart decisions for public and private investment by allowing them to measure impact and track results. Information from the Atlas supports key principles of Preservation Green Lab research:

  • The best American blocks are diverse, dense, and adaptable. Old buildings and blocks bring people together, provide homes and workplaces for all, and offer the best of American cities. Inspired by the writings of Jane Jacobs and Stewart Brand, the Atlas of ReUrbanism puts these connections on a map.
  • Cities across America have valuable, underused assets. In places ranging from Anchorage to Miami, large swaths of the built environment have weathered decades of booms and busts, offering valuable lessons about economic, social, and environmental resilience for today’s new generation of city builders.
  • Finding affordability and opportunity in cities. Older buildings provide low-cost, flexible space for entrepreneurs and small business owners, as well as affordable, diverse housing options for different types of people.
  • Density abounds in older neighborhoods. People often conflate height with density, but urban areas with older apartment buildings and adaptable older homes often score highest on population density. Meanwhile, vacant lots and surface parking lots offer clear opportunities for boosting density without demolition or disruption of communities’ older fabric.
  • The local economy is diverse, adaptable, and resilient. The Preservation Green Lab’s Older, Smaller, Better report demonstrated a clear link between older, smaller buildings and mixed-vintage blocks and higher rates of women- and minority-ownership of businesses. Older buildings house locally owned businesses that employ local residents and reinforce the distinctiveness of a city.
  • Landmarking is a powerful tool, but there must be others. Though many cities across the United States have a majority of buildings that are at least 50 years old, local landmark designation typically touches only 3–5 percent of the buildings in these municipalities. Adaptive reuse ordinances, flexible parking requirements, and form-based codes are just a few of the new preservation tools that will shape vital neighborhoods over the next 50 years.

Knowing more about our cities is the first step to discovering the opportunities, promoting the possibilities, and developing the plans to make the most of their resources. The Atlas of ReUrbanism is an evolving tool that will afford city leaders, urban activists, developers, and residents an opportunity to understand and leverage the assets in American cities, allowing building reuse to play an essential role in creating the sustainable, inclusive, resilient cities of tomorrow.

Margaret O’Neal is the senior manager of sustainable preservation for the Preservation Green Lab.



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