The Fantastic Food, Drink, and Culture of Older, Smaller Buildings

By Mike Powe posted 10-20-2014 17:09

  
The Owl Bar in Baltimore’s Mid-Town Belvedere neighborhood has great historic character and charm. It is located in a building constructed in 1903. | Credit: Travis S., Flickr, CC by-NC 2.0 license.
The Owl Bar in Baltimore’s Mid-Town Belvedere neighborhood has great historic character and charm. It is located in a building constructed in 1903. | Credit: Travis S., Flickr, CC by-NC 2.0 license.

In Older, Smaller, Better, the Preservation Green Lab leveraged Big Data to show what an important role older, smaller buildings play in making great neighborhoods. In our newest report, Retrofitting Philadelphia, we used additional data to highlight areas in the City of Brotherly Love that could benefit most from policy attention and investment in building reuse. Next month, we’ll release a new report highlighting opportunities to strengthen building reuse efforts in Baltimore. Even as we produce these new reports, we continue to look for new datasets and new questions to quickly explore. In recent weeks, we have been collecting and analyzing new data on cultural spaces and top-ranked restaurants and bars. Here’s a quick look at what we’ve found so far.

Top Restaurants and Bars

All across the country, you can find incredible historic bars and restaurants. PreservationNation bloggers Julia Rocchi, Katherine Flynn, David Robert Weible, and others have been highlighting  some of the country’s most exceptional historic watering holes. As Ric Cochrane pointed out in an earlier PreservationNation post, old buildings and good food go together like hot pizza and cold beer. At the Preservation Green Lab, we decided to take a look at the some basic data on the buildings and city blocks that house these fine establishments.

According to Philadelphia records, one of the city’s top restaurants, Barbuzzo, is located in a Center City building constructed in 1900. | Credit:  Jennifer Yin, Flickr, CC by-NC 2.0 license.
Barbuzzo, is located in a Center City building constructed in 1900. | Credit: Jennifer Yin, Flickr, CC by-NC 2.0 license.

In Baltimore and Philadelphia, our analysis suggests that it may, in fact, be easier to find great food and drink if you’re on a block with a mix of small old and new buildings than a block with mostly large, new structures. We looked at recent lists of the top 50 bars and restaurants in Philadelphia and Baltimore, as identified and ranked by Philadelphia Magazine and The Baltimore Sun, and we explored city data on the age of the establishments’ buildings and the characteristics of their surrounding blocks. In Baltimore, 83 percent of the top restaurants and bars are located in buildings constructed before 1920, whereas only half of the city’s commercial buildings were constructed before that time. About 86 percent of these gastronomical destinations are located on streets and blocks where the majority of buildings were constructed before 1945, though only 56 percent of the 200-meter-by-200-meter sections that make up Baltimore have majority pre-war buildings.

In Philadelphia, nearly all of the top ranked bars and restaurants—98.9 percent—are located in areas of the city where the majority of buildings were constructed before 1945. More than 90 percent of Philadelphia Magazine’s top bars and restaurants are located in blocks with greater than average diversity of building age. Finally, although about 50 percent of all Philadelphia commercial buildings were constructed in 1920 or before, 64 percent of the top food and drink establishments are located in buildings constructed during that time.

Cultural Spaces in Seattle

In Seattle, we recently mashed up our Older, Smaller, Better database with the city’s inventory of cultural spaces, which was assembled by the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture. The inventory includes libraries, museums, movie theaters, art galleries, as well as arts-based educational organizations and other such enterprises. We found that areas with older, smaller buildings and mixed-vintage blocks are significantly more likely to have cultural spaces. Where you find a mix of small, old and new buildings, you’ll see places like the Seattle Pinball Museum, Cinerama, the Columbia City Theater, or the Tractor Tavern. Looking deeper into the cultural spaces database, we found that the presence of older buildings is significantly associated with an increase in the self-reported stability of the cultural spaces, higher likelihood that the building itself is owned by the cultural organization, and higher likelihood that the cultural organization is a nonprofit.

The Seattle Pinball Museum, located in the historic Chinatown International District, is one of many cultural spaces in Seattle that are located in an older building and a historic neighborhood. | Credit:  Canopic, Flickr, CC by-NC-ND 2.0 license.
The Seattle Pinball Museum, located in the historic Chinatown International District, is one of many cultural spaces in Seattle that are located in an older building and a historic neighborhood. | Credit: Canopic, Flickr, CC by-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Our analysis also shows that the presence of a cultural space gives a boost to the already high performance of areas with older, smaller buildings and mixed-vintage blocks. The presence of cultural organizations is significantly associated with greater intensity of cellphone activity at 10:00 p.m. on Friday nights, even when you take into account the positive impact associated with older building age, greater diversity of building age, and small size of buildings. Cultural spaces were also significantly tied to increased numbers of permits for outdoor seating outside cafes and restaurants, and significantly more photos posted to Flickr in 2012—boosting performance by these metrics even higher than already seen for character-rich areas. Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture was interested to learn of these statistical relationships and is now thinking creatively about how policies that support preservation also support important cultural spaces across the city.

In the weeks and months ahead, Preservation Green Lab staff looks forward to exploring other datasets on community assets. Do great shared “co-working spaces” typically occupy older, smaller buildings? Are neighborhoods with historic fabric home to greater numbers of dogs and other pets? What other types of businesses or street life could we compare with Green Lab data on the character and fabric of older cities? Stay tuned.

Are you attending PastForward the 2014 National Preservation Conference? Check out Mike Powe's session "Big Data and the Vitality of Older, Smaller Buildings on November 13, 2014. More at www.PastForward2014.org.

Mike Powe is the senior research manager at the Seattle-based National Trust Preservation Green Lab.



#Sustainability #PreservationGreenLab #OlderSmallerBetter

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