Monday, October 1, 2007

The Dying City

An experiment using Ian McHargs overlay technique to map out the decline of Dayton.

Ian McHarg (d 2004) was a landscape architect but is known more for his contributions to planning than for his design work. He helped originate the concept of ecological landscape design, and developed an overlay technique of site analysis. McHargs book, Design With Nature, explains all this with a series of philosophical chapters alternating with case studies & examples from McHargs practice and teaching at Penn.

The overlay technique, before computer graphics, was done using thin transparent paper. It mapped out various environmental constraints or values, then overlaid, resulting in a composite. The darker the area in the composite, the more constraints. In this example it is used to determine the least ecologically sensitive route for a highway or railroad

Though used to map ecological and environmental constraints/values this technique could also be used for social and economic factors, using composites to map out the heaviest concentrations of urban pathology in a city.

There is an example in Design With Nature, where the various social and health pathologies of Philadelphia are mapped out, then overlaid in a composite.

The following is an example for Dayton for housing, but a limited example due to the limitations of my computer software.

The source for the information is the “2006-2010 Dayton Kettering Consolidated Plan":a 2.19MB file available for download at the city Planning and Development On-Line Document Library.

The following are the composite maps made from the data:

This map overlays the following factors (economic/demographic factors).

1. Decline in House Sales Price
2. Foreclosure Rates
3. Vacancy Rates
(an additional factor could be rate of population decline over time., by census tract)

This map overlays additional factors (physical factors)

1. % structurally sound
2. Demolitions
3. elevated blood lead level clusters in children (from leaded paint)(an additional factor could be reduction in number of units over time, by census tract)

Then a composite map, showing areas I identify as areas one can expect to decline into slums in next 20 years or so, or end up abandonded:
One could also overlay the income/poverty rates to show that the areas with declining housing are also the ones with the fewest means to repair deteriorating property and abate health hazards like lead paint and asbestos. The vicious cycle ensues, as property falls out of the housing market and eventually ends up boarded up and demolished.

The inescapable conclusion from these maps is that large areas of Dayton are dying. Perhaps this accounts for the unofficial urban triage going on, where some neighborhoods are unofficially written-off (Santa Clara)and resources committed elsewhere.

Eventually the city will look more and more like this:
..sort of an urban savanna ecosystem, once the last houses come down.


Anonymous said...

Jeff, an interesting post and obviously startling. You've defined a problem, or a set of problems; so now, what's the road to recovery? Youngstown's approach is to "downsize:" get rid of the abandoned housing stock, create appealing green spaces, and shovel-ready sites for commerce. I'm glad to see Dayton is talking with them, but that's not to say this should be our strategy.

kevin said...

Unfortunately, the easy solution is tare down old, rebuild new, then wonder why we tore it down 30 years later. We are watching that at the fairgrounds (Rubicon Park) neighborhood right now. Over half the old houses have been replaced by new. The idea was the same for Burns/Jackson (Oregon).

Jefferey said...

No solutions from me.

Dayton had been going downhill for decades, but I think the combination of the failing school system and the mortgage foreclosure crisis is accelerating things.

It remains to be seen how the city will manage this. The Youngstown approach was to deal with extensive empty industrial sites as much as abandoned housing. Here the the problem is more the piecmeal thinnning-out of neighborhoods...and increasing vacancies and abandonments in neighborhoods that used to be fairly stable.

Since I'm interested in the older houses and commercial buildings it pains me to see this, but, realistically what options are there?

Anonymous said...

Jeff, Dayton's residential historic districts seem to be doing well. The new developments in the UD area, the Fairgrounds, Grafton Hills, maybe BPV, et al, are also hopeful. I, too, am concerned about other areas that have been stable for years but could deteriorate in the coming years. I'm thinking of places like Belmont. You mentioned a couple problems holding the city back: the schools, the foreclosure crisis. You also have a city bureaucracy that tries to put as many roadblocks as possible for residents trying to improve their neighborhoods (think of the TIF issue), and you have some realtors discouraging new Daytonians from looking in the city. It's sad, but these need to be overcome. Another issue is old housing stock. I believe and work issues pertaining to historic preservation, but there needs to be a limit. Some people prefer new homes; why not build them in the city? Tear down abandoned homes and/or neighborhoods and build from scratch. Not every neighborhood should be considered "historic."

Greg Hunter said...

Jeff, You are a great data generator and interpretor. Dayton's problem has been institutional racism on both sides of the issue and unfortunately no barrier to growth. If one goes to Europe the "old" housing stock is still in place and continues to provided shelter; however America, the land of the throw it out, does not believe in the maintaining existing well built structures. Dayton is wasting the investment infrastructure in its housing stock and at the same it is ruining its public transportation system.

Jefferey said...

The historic districts are the bright spot in Dayton. A ring of close-in neighborhoods that are being restored.

What rubbed me wrong about Esratis comment on his blog on South Park is his setting up an implied competition ("Who's the best?/We're the best!") between districts. Does he and others see this as a competition or even a zero-sum game?

I was going to reply to his "South Park is the Best Neighborhood in Dayton" comment by asking him if that was like being on the first class deck on the Titantic.

But that would be rude.


metromarks comments about tearing down and building new is prescient, as that is already happening on a small scale in the Inner West area. Not just Wright-Dunbar, but other places.

That might be the ultimate solution for Dayton, replacement of housing stock at lower density reflecting lower demand.

But then there is that "steering" issue. Despite what the real estate people said at Dayton Most Metro I know that this has happened as late as 10 years ago.

A bigger steering issue is what the locals due to newcomers to the area: peer pressure to not move in town.


Greg brings up race. Race is the mostly unspoken subtext in the Dayton area. I might touch that third rail in future posts.

Greg also discusses Europe. About all I know from Europe is visits to relatives in Germany. There are cultural and legal barriers keeping the US from emulating Germany, and probably other European countrys.

Which is unfortunate, as the Germans are very postive about the city and urbanism and have a strong civic culture. They even have a proverb on cities: "Stadt Luft Macht Frei" air makes one free.

kevin said...

Get Urban past Thursday night ended up being a place that had representatives from almost all historic districts in Dayton, probably aside from the Kossuth Colony and Kenilworth Ave. "Competition" was on the lips of more than one person and is not being overlooked. South Park has obviously got a lot of press lately about AIA and Rehabarama. I'm going to try to play both side of the coin on this. On one side: As a resident of South Park, I have watch people work their arses off for a lot of the hoo-ha we are getting. I also feel that we have a longest way to go. We are big, but don't have all the great structures that Oregon, StAH, Huffman, Grafton, 5-Oaks, etc have. We have cottage-mortar type buildings among 2-story wood-framed shotguns. We are combining some of these cottages to make them marketable. The otherside of the coin is that we are obviously all in the same boat (Titanic comment stung a bit, Jeff). This certainly includes everyone that's under the DPS umbrella. We all either have to gain or maintain. In the face of fleeting workforce, foreclosures and such, we'll all feel desperate.

Lets all hope we can win and save the history we have left, and we all get turns in the spotlight.