Monday, July 06, 2009

On Vacant Land and Demolition

Chris Briem inadvertently tied a couple things together for me the other morning.

First, there's this article from the P-G, which Monsieur Briem references, regarding the hazards of landslides to property owners in the City.

Second, there's another "woe is us" themed article from the Trib, continuing the Scaife Leviathan's mantra of "We suck," making me once again wonder if Maggie Scaife got all the Xanax in the divorce.

Third, there's this (frequently misunderstood) article from the Daily Telegraph about the impending demolition of Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. Well, not really, but that's the way that people are reading what could really be called a "managed downsizing."

What basically ties the whole thing together is that, yes, at one point Pittsburgh had 600,000 people within its borders. In order to accommodate a population of that magnitude, one surmises, residents must have been stacked like cordwood. Indeed, if you look at the housing stock up and down the Mon Valley, from the Southside Slopes through to Duquesne, you will see that, yes, people were, in fact, stacked like cordwood with houses built in places that no sane engineer would ever dare to put them.

Of course, the particularly nasty housing stock was not for the upper or even middle management, but rather for the poor shlubs who worked down the mills. Even by the standards of the day I'm sure that these homes would be considered "less than modest," to underplay the term quite significantly.

So, it doesn't really surprise me that Pittsburgh has a huge mass of housing, built in places that it shouldn't really be, with densities that are unbearable by today's standards, and with building and amenity qualities that do not meat the needs of today's consumer.

What's different between Pittsburgh and Detroit when talking about the demolitions in the third article above is that when we demolish a building in the City, they can be absorbed into the hillsides or be relatively unobtrusive in our topographically separated neighborhoods. In flat Detroit, however, demolitions are not interrupted by hills and valleys, and it leaves behind a very noticeable scare on the urban landscape.

And then, for Pittsburgh we have the added advantage that comes with not building anything else on a hillside: Wal*Mart doesn't fall onto Route 28.

But I digress.

As Chris shows, a properly targeted vacant land strategy can actually increase the value of the remaining properties and make the City a better (if less dense) place to live.


MH said...

This would make a lot of sense, especially if the city could shut down whole streets and not have to maintain the infrastructure. But, what happens if there are eight vacant houses on a street and two owners who don't want to move? Can the city use eminent domain to move somebody if they are de-developing (veloping?) instead of developing?

C. Briem said...

Inadvertently? I may not be coherent much of the time, but I am rarely inadvertent. :-)

MH said...

Is anybody else thinking "Urban Ski Slope"?