Saturday, January 24, 2009

A vacant lot is better than a vacant building

Yer humble host is some kind of wierdo as he is not as freaked out by vacant buildings. Not scared, more melancholy about it all.

This seems to be a minority opinion. From the UpDayton website, some comments on the city:

“There’s just a lot of vacancy…I’d almost feel safer if there wasn’t an empty, vacant warehouse, or empty, vacant building, or empty, vacant house – if there was nothing, I would feel safer.”

..and this one:

“It’s hard to get people to walk two blocks if they have to walk by two boarded-up buildings.”

..couple this with the statement from the DB-J op-ed:

"Beg and borrow as much money as possible to relieve urban blight. Plant grass on demolished building sites. It looks better than a derelict building and presents opportunities for future growth" one can see how Daytons' vacany problem is seriously turning people off on the city. Essentially this is a call for aggressive Detroitification: the removal of the abandoned and vacant urban fabric.

But the big catch 22 of Detroitifcation is that Dayton will lose the one thing that seperates it from the suburbs and differentiates it from other citys, which is the patina of place. The character imparted by the legacy urban fabric. The architectural patrinomy of 19th and early 20th century that was subject to cultural weathering ; the use and reuse, and ongoing building subsitution giving the "old city" its variety and character.

So after all the demolitions are done and the city is a patchwork (and maybe even more than that) of vacant grassy lots and surviving buildings, what then? Not so scary? Or just even more vacant, but one tinged with a deeper sense of loss of the physical structures of the past, now memory, or even less than that.

Realistically this is inevitable. Not just the economics of the situation since people want it to happen. Perhaps one can get into this as something very avant. To paraphrase a line from The Big Lebowski:

"We are (urban) nihilsts. We believe in vacant lots."


Gina said...

I am no expert by any means, but my understanding is that planners agree with you. Pretty much anything is better than a vacant lot in terms of an urban landscape and making people comfortable walking around.

Anonymous said...

Ruins are more appealing than vacant lots. Even at their worst, ruins evoke a sense of time, place and humanity. Each ruin is a ode.

The windowless Frigidaire factory at times almost looked 5th century Athenian when illuminated by low-angled sunlight.

Jefferey said...

I can see that with Frigidaire, but ruins of of wood frame houses? I guess there is the Heidleberg Project in Detroit as an example of working with urban frame house ruins?

Anonymous said...

The truth is that there is a lot to be said for the "patina of place" written of here.

And there is something to be questioned of ourselves for needing grass and polish on everything we see. We will find this a hard standard to manage in this post-boom economy (or with the future of natural resources in general).

I hope to see the region find the golden mean on this one. Keep the patina, but shrink the overstock a bit.

Brian said...

I work downtown and I love it here; I take a walk almost every day, but there are people I work with who will only step outside the building when going to their car, they are that scared.

I think there is a genuine need to be concerned with the potential fears of people who do feel uneasy downtown. People who have live in the subburbs their entire lives (like myself) can't go anywhere without seeing green spaces, front lawns, local parks or playgrounds, and things like that are engrained with a sense of security; they are "familiar."

Having said that I also disagree with the idea of tearing down buildings for the sake of putting up empty lots. It takes away from the idea of an urban setting and living, and I would much rather see them repurposed for almost any reason than done away with.

However, I think it's important to note that the people who make comments like that are probably not part of a minority, and fear of what is unfamiliar to them (who hasn't seen an old deralict warehouse in some horror movie?) is going to drive where they live. These are the people who need to be convinced to move back into the area, and dismissing their concerns completely isn't a very good way do that.

I would love to see Downtown with more green spaces. Not huge empty lots, heck not even huge parks, there are a couple of those, but small gardens, and green spaces located near buildings isn't such a bad thing. "beautifying" places with a few garden boxes outside of some 2nd and 3rd story windows or some outdoor sitting space that is surrounded by some flowers and trees and not hugging up to main street and 4 lane traffic could probably only do good for people's "perception," which is so impactful on how people feel about the area, and how "safe" they are.

Jefferey said...

those smaller softening things, like flowerboxes and such, are nice and remind me a bit of the European approach to cityscapes.

One of the issues of inner Dayton, though, is not even abandonment but how shabby it all looks.