Thursday, July 5, 2012

Urban Renewal...Redefining Our Struggling Neighborhoods

In today's economy we have all seen blocks of boarded up buildings in our cities. It is heartbreaking to think that these once bustling metropolises are being reduced to areas that tourists avoid and inhabitants move away from. How are these spaces supposed to reclaim their life? Luckily, we have innovative, intelligent, and creative minds in the design world working to solve this dilemma. Urban renewal can involve new buildings, remodels, or even just a fresh perspective. The best urban renewals enhance the current urban fabric rather than replace it. Infill projects requiring no demolition of existing buildings help to maintain the character of the city while improving its quality of life.

Prudential Center in Boston; Photo Credit: City Profile

The Prudential Center in Boston was built a half century ago, but has set the precedent for effective urban renewal. It was built over abandoned rail yards, and left all existing structures intact. The center is pedestrian friendly and originally included elevated plazas, parking garages, residential and office towers, shopping arcades, and hotels. Mixed use spaces were added in 1964 with the addition of the Prudential Tower. Since its completion, additional infill projects have continued to be built in and near the Prudential Center. This urban renewal project has inspired a new Boston.

Manhattan High Line; Photo Credit: Dezeen

More recently, Manhattan has transformed their abandoned rail yards and rail road tracks into something new and beautiful. The High Line sits on the west side of Manhattan and serves as an elevated public park. These historic railroad tracks were in danger of being demolished when neighborhood residents saw the potential to breathe life back into their portion of the city and create a more beautiful space in which to live. This unique and beautiful feature of Manhattan has become a tourist attraction and has inspired new mixed use developments to build up around it.

Old Oakland; Photo Credit: Old Oakland

Popuphood is a start-up that is attempting to spread the word of urban renewal throughout the country and has a vision of revitalizing struggling neighborhoods block by block. Their test block in Old Oakland, CA has brought new businesses, traffic, and tourist dollars to the neighborhood. Could their philosophy be the correct one? If we want to revitalize our neighborhoods we simply have to live and spend in the same place? Maybe we have to reign in our car travel and focus on supporting our local economy.

No matter how one approaches urban renewal, creativity, passion and out of the box thinking are necessary ingredients to turn our struggling neighborhoods around.

Written by Megan Dougherty, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C 

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