I was reading Axios today and came across an article that describes the desperate conditions of some American neighborhoods.
Working with data collected by Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Kim Hart reports several problems:
In many post-industrial cities, vacancies are still at “epidemic levels.”
It’s not just an urban problem; rural areas and small towns can have a vacancy rate nearly twice as high as major metro areas.
Abandoned properties are a significant drain on municipalities because they are expensive to police, drag down the value of surrounding properties, and reduce tax revenues.
This crisis can go from bad to worse.
Hard-hit legacy cities are dealing with some degree of “hypervacancy.” When vacancies rise above about 20% of a community’s total properties, the number of vacant buildings may grow indefinitely and the market stops functioning, according to Alan Mallach of the Center for Community Progress.
Angie, a friend, recently told me about her brother’s work in a midwestern city.
He was living in Seattle when he decided to see what he could do to repair his home and native city. He called friends from high school and together they put to work.
Wouldn’t this make a great HGTV show? HGTV has enjoyed a big success covering renovation teams of several kinds. Fixer Upper, Good Bones, Flip or Flop, Rehab Addict, to name a few. Indeed, this is one of the real success stories of reality TV.
I couldn’t help wondering whether this might not be an idea for a new HGTV franchise. How about a show that features Millennials helping to rebuild a neighborhood? This would be a story about renovation in the literal sense. But it also renovation of community, neighborhood life, urban economies and the American city. Angie’s brother is all about this bigger picture.
And surely a bigger picture would be good for HGTV. There is something cozy and charming about their present narrow focus, individual homes, families, reno projects. But there is always a bigger picture, and this would open up story-telling vistas for HGTV.
Best of all, HGTV could help us reckon with a compelling social problem.
The Venn diagram in question. How can we make these circles intersect?
Call it City Salvage, or Reno, not demo, or Reno rescue.
I have reached out to “Angie’s brother” and if he is prepared to let me, I will give you more details in a subsequent post.
Thanks to Patrick Gorski for the image and to Pamela, my wife, for help with naming.
Make another Venn area, call it ‘invite the artists in’… artists looking for live/work spaces will almost guarantee remediation of urban blight. Viz., SoHo most notably, and many other examples. Consider activity now taking place in Detroit.
Joan, great idea, in fact, Angie’s brother is an artist, so that’s covered. Thanks!
Starting in the late 1970s in San Francisco, we had ringside seats to watch the renewal by mostly gay men of entire blocks blocks of derelict Victorians and other structures. They were vilified by “community” groups for being evil gentrifiers. Fortunately, these men shrugged off the criticism and went on to rescue the Fillmore District after they had resurrected the Castro.
Robert, interesting, thanks, more proof of concept!
I appreciate you sharing this, and because this is a topic very adjacent to a lot of my work, it raised for me a question I find myself asking to a lot of people I work with. What would this be trying to solve and for whom?
Having done work for nearly 15 years in urban areas on systems that produce economically and socially inequitable results for Americans, what Angie’s brother is doing isn’t particularly novel.
There have been many stories of people – millenials and Boomers – returning to cities like Detroit for over a decade — with artist’s houses, nonprofit supported efforts, and even local government-run land banks and land trusts that have been offering to sell vacant properties for as low as $1 for those who are interested.
And the scale of the problem of vacant properties is bigger than these one-off solutions or even programs can address. Because vacant properties lead to all sorts of issues with public safety and health (from fires to asbestos), and when communities’ housing stock and associated infrastructure aren’t right-sized for the number of people who live in the place today it has big economic influences because land use, and land value is tied up everywhere in our economic system – from funding for local public schools to ability to access capital for renovation and new projects. And in the U.S., policy is oriented toward building new, not for dismantling what no longer is serving communities or is even posing a threat to them.
The other piece I think about relating to this — and having seen how 20 years of policies intended to address the hollowing out of American cities has led to widespread gentrification, homogenization of cities, and the displacement of long time residents who – is how do they benefit?