Thursday, April 26, 2007

Challenges in Community Revitalization

For years, urban planners, developers, architects, elected officials, neighborhood residents, community organizations, and a huge array of other interested parties have worked together addressing the difficult challenges of community revitalization. While the challenges differ from neighborhood to neighborhood and town to town, some issues are common in the most troubled situations.

Low property values, high development costs, weak real estate markets, poor public perception, and aging infrastructure are frequently part of the mix. There's another major issue challenging community developers: the difficulty in site assembly.

Site assembly is not a sexy issue. In fact, it can be downright dull. While it's going on, there's usually not a shovel in the ground, and lots of money being spent. It gets further clouded when viewed in discussions involving the use of eminent domain. Nonetheless, for any development to occur, it's an absolute necessity. The lack of site assembly can hold back redevelopment efforts for decades.

Bring together a group of experienced community developers from across the country, and they will usually agree that the ability to assemble large, contiguous sites for redevelopment is critical. Why is this important?

Successful redevelopment projects create positive visual impact and critical mass. They establish economy of scale in the installation of public and private improvements. They are connected.

For our local redevelopment efforts to be successful, where property ownership has become a dizzying patchwork of mostly tiny, often vacant, publicly and privately owned parcels, we must overcome the upfront challenge of site assembly to create opportunities to build quality planned developments.

For macro challenges we need solutions of scale.


Urban Review said...

You wrote: "The lack of site assembly can hold back redevelopment efforts for decades."

I'm sorry, but the site development thing is so played out. Think scattered sites. OK, so you can't get contiguous property anymore that should not hold off projects for decades. A good, but of sufficient scale, scattered site project can get going much sooner and is more likely to be of better design than some big massive project on an assembled parcel. It may not have the same impact but it is better than waiting around for decades before something happens.

Anonymous said...

UR poses a false alternative. "scattered sites" and "waiting around for decades before something happens" the only alternatives.

Ask the Missouri General Assembly. Or Cortex.

Rick Bonasch said...

Scattered site developments work when there is already sufficient strength in the local market to support individual, smaller scale projects.

For comparison, think about areas where the market has bottomed out, land has negative value, and development costs far exceed the market values of the finished homes.

These are the places where we need to re-establish the market, create critical mass, build positive perception, and rebuild community connections.

A great example of this is the Parson's Place development in East St. Louis. A continguous site of scale was assembled (partially through the use of eminent domain), the project has critical mass, the project has improved the perception of the community, and it is connected.

It has established critical mass by providing 275 units of decent, new, affordable housing and serving to attract additional new housing investments, both rental and for sale; and, it has improved the perception of the community by being the largest new privately financed housing development in East St. Louis in decades.

Furthermore, it is connected by being close to downtown St. Louis, by being a transit-oriented-development with its own Metrolink station, and by being made possible through a broad network of community supporters working together.

Anonymous said...

Yes scattered sites are oriented toward the longer term... that's good. And yes your points are understandable and real especially given the large acreage that needs new investment blood.

But in our region what has been (or will be) produced by these types of redevelopment plans? How would you rate the following: 1. Sunset Hills, 2. Hadley Township, 3. Old Webster, 4. The Boulevard, others you want to add?

Should the successes of organic growth be sacrificed to omniscient planners? Local govermental entities have attempted to foster economic development with disappointing results. Should their dominance be offset by state laws which will further concentrate power?

Without a general agreement on urban design standards, most plans will reflect short term solutions but create long term problems.

Coercion can never generate long-lasting creative activity.

Urban Review said...

Loughborough Commons didn't need to include a few small residential properties on the edge of their large site. The proposed project across from City Hospital doens't need to wipe out viable homes.

Developers are often land hungry and seek more and more in the name of site assembly. That is, if they have 15 acres they want 17 acres.

I can see where, in very desolate areas, I might argue in favor of assembling some adjacent parcels of land for one time project to have a big impact. Still, I'm concerned how monolithic and boring some of these large scale projects continue to be. Developers need to bring in various architects to design separate bulidings or something on these projects.

Michael R. Allen said...

"For macro challenges we need solutions of scale."

Such as what? What solution do you propose?

The Pruitt-Igoe site is 33 acres. Is that not big enough for experienced developers? Seems like it's too big, because no one has ever proposed a viable redevelopment project for the site.

What I see in the city ar elots of small-scale projects existing in coherent larger "developments." Those developments are called neighborhoods, and they are built by residents over time, not by developers in a few years.

Anonymous said...

So are you writing this to support HB 327, which is going to conference on Tuesday with provisions that encourage large-scale (minimum of 75 acre) site assembly in St. Louis?

Rick Bonasch said...

I like the idea of creating an incentive for carrying out land assembly in difficult to develop areas. Such an incentive could be a powerful tool to leverage further investment, but the 75 acre minimum seems high.

There are good land assembly opportunities that are less than 75 acres. A smaller minimum would open the door to more options.

An old architect friend of mine taught me something he called the "flexibility principle". It's always good to maintain as much flexibility in planning and development as possible. Presetting a 75 acre minimum takes away a lot of flexibility.

There's a big spread between a single, 3,000-square foot, LRA parcel and a 75 acre site, and lots of potential for creativity in between.