Friday, May 01, 2009

More on Demolition Without Design

The most frustrating thing for urbanists is that there is so little rhyme or reason to how the city disposes of these buildings. With no plan for replacement, the creeping creation of vacant lots in the name of “much needed” parking or blight removal is insidious.
Detroitist Francis Grunow has written a very interesting plea for a comprehensive redevelopment strategy -- what I think you would call urban planning -- in the midst of Detroit's demolition free-for-all. Without at all denying the need for urban triage in a shrinking city like Detroit, he argues for "the repositioning of the city’s core assets, its undervalued anchors, as the urban basis for revival and long-term regeneration".

One of the bases, the anchors, is the incredibly beautiful and incredibly threatened Michigan Central Station,

designed by the same architects who designed Grand Central Terminal. Detroit plans to "use economic stimulus money to demolish Michigan Central and stick the gratuitously negligent billionaire owner, Matty Moroun, with the bill"

Random questions that aren't completely rhetorical:
  1. why is demolition of neglected private property considered an acceptable governmental responsibility but moth-balled maintenance is never, even when the plan is to force a billionaire to pay up?

  2. what's wrong with treating urban anchors as visual and monumental rather than economic anchors, especially if we're talking about low demand real-estate? Monumental anchors give a city body and presence.

    Even as monuments, you can't let the street front die, but can you mothball the tops without having to mothball the bottom?

  3. Is there such a thing as phased renovations of major buildings like you see with the Phase I, Phase II of suburban developments? Could you "subdivide" major buildings?

  4. Why can't a municipality pay for modern infrastructural improvements like electricity and plumbing in a dense urban renovation like they do for new roads, sewers, electricity and water in suburban developments. The former might make greater economic sense.

  5. Will a full-blown urbanist movement emerge, in the mode and possibly from the ranks of the preservationist and environmental movements, with the same willingness to fight for its principles? Or has it already emerged?

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Anonymous MATAlac said...

Wild guesses:

why is demolition of neglected private property...I think billionaires are under the same crunch that they rarely own 100 percent of anything and are running into the red as quick as homeowners, mainly due to bank payments for inflated prop values. Rather than taking the long term vision of the historic properties, they see liquidity. CRE/Development is all about location, not structure.

what's wrong with treating urban anchors..Its concidered philanthropic for private firms to do this. This is the domain of non-profit rabble rousers and activist government.

Even as monuments...I knew the folks who ran the ice cream parlor in the Lincoln America tower during the many years as this, they had frequent closures due to sprinkler pipes bursting and other items happening upstairs. It seems like the entire building must be rightly mothballed for this to work. This also makes me think of the First Methodist fire that caught the court square builing. Proper mothballing is seen as an unneccessary expense for non-revenue generating properties.

Is there such a thing as phased renovations...Sort of, but all life safety code items must be in the first phase of an entire structure.

Why can't a municipality pay..I would say path of least resistance, but usually they offer this as an incentive for increasing tax base. Completely backwards practice, and likely to be questioned under new HUD Sec. Donovan.

Will a full-blown urbanist movement emerge...I think that is left to be defined: The goal is a higher quality of life for (all) urban dwellers. Preservationists feed off of romance of places, and environmentalist movements are similar. The vision to realize the unbuilt, and see yourself within it is a leap of faith that needs support, there I see the urbaninst mission.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous MATAlac said...

The vision to realize the unbuilt...Scratch that, and replace with:

Finding new ways for us to live in a more dense, efficient and humane pattern.

12:56 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Thanks MataLac!

I like your post-scratched answer better.

I guess the rhetorical part of my questions thinks the public realm should have much greater influence on these decisions. A billionaire doesn't care about structure or a monument, but the public should. The decisions about these, if they affect how the city works, should not be left just to the owner.

In exchange, the municipality could pay for base infrastructure costs of major renovations that vastly increase density in already urbanized land.

12:09 AM  

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