A new report lays out steps cities can take to make it easier to use older buildings to add life and prosperity to urban neighborhoods.
Partnership for Building Reuse, a joint venture by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Urban Land Institute, released “Untapped Potential: Strategies for Revitalization and Reuse” on Wednesday. The group studied efforts in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Philadelphia before making a host of recommendations.
“This research is really based on the idea older buildings provide … the backbone for stronger local economies,” said Margaret O’Neal, associate director, communications and partnerships for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Green Lab.
There have been various reports issued by the organizations over the years, O’Neal said, but this is the first to provide actions cities can take to preserve and incorporate aging structures.
The report offers several suggestions to encourage adaptive reuse of older buildings. Challenges facing incorporating older buildings into a changing urban context include use limits, incompatible development standards and the complexity of zoning codes.
Solutions to the problems include using context-sensitive zoning that takes into account a city’s building patterns. It’s also suggested that cities create new zoning districts that allow for more uses and reduce the need for variances. Baltimore is highlighted in the report for already adopting similar measures.
The report also recommends that cities take other steps, such as eliminating uniform parking requirements, using incentives to bolster areas with weak markets, and using data and mapping to have a better handle on available assets.
Incorporating older buildings into plans to rejuvenate struggling parts of the city has been a challenge in some parts of Baltimore, particularly the Westside. That section of the city struggles with outdated office buildings and former department stores that have contributed to the blight and lack of investment that has dragged down part of the city’s otherwise thriving downtown.
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