[Preservation Tips & Tools] Older, Smaller, Better: Recommendations for Your City


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In "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," written in 1961, Jane Jacobs observed, “Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them.”

"Older, Smaller, Better: Measuring How the Character of Buildings and Blocks Influences Urban Vitality," a new report from Preservation Green Lab, validates Jacobs' long-respected, but largely untested hypothesis -- that neighborhoods containing a mix of older, smaller buildings of different ages support greater levels of positive economic and social activity than areas dominated by newer, larger buildings.

The three study cities -- San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. -- all have extensive older building stock and strong real estate markets. In this toolkit, we share the steps your community can take to realize similar benefits.

View the slideshow of the findings here: http://www.slideshare.net/PreservationNation/toolkit-older-smallerbetterfindings140515jr

Read the full report and methodology here: http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/sustainable-communities/green-lab/oldersmallerbetter/

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[Preservation Tips & Tools] Older, Smaller, Better: Recommendations for Your City

  1. 1. “Older, Smaller, Better: Measuring How the Character of Buildings and Blocks Influences Urban Vitality” RECOMMENDATIONS FOR YOUR CITY
  2. 2. Realize the efficiencies of older buildings and blocks. Older, smaller buildings and city blocks “punch above their weight class” on a per-square-foot basis. Their efficiencies include mixed daytime and nighttime uses; common entrances and shared services; creative use of small spaces and storage areas; and very little space dedicated for cars. Codes and regulations may need revision to encourage these efficiencies.
  3. 3. Fit new and old together at a human scale. Mixing buildings from different vintages -- including modern buildings -- supports social and cultural activity in commercial and mixed-use zones. In the report, scale also played an important role: Areas with smaller lots and more human- scaled buildings generally scored higher on the performance measures than squares characterized by larger lots and structures.
  4. 4. Support neighborhood evolution, not revolution. The higher performance of areas containing small-scale buildings of mixed vintage suggests that successful districts evolve over time, adding and subtracting buildings incrementally, rather than comprehensively and all at once.
  5. 5. Steward the streetcar legacy. Many of the highest performing areas in the study cities were commercial districts with buildings that date to the streetcar era. As cities seek to re-establish transit corridors and foster mixed-use development, existing streetcar infrastructure provides a head start.
  6. 6. Make room for the new and local economy. The Older, Smaller, Better research confirms a correlation between a higher concentration of creative jobs and older, smaller-scaled buildings and blocks. These areas also support higher levels of small and non-chain business, helping to keep dollars in the local economy and providing more resilience against future economic storms.
  7. 7. Make it easier to reuse small buildings. Cities can help unlock the potential of vacant and underused buildings by removing development barriers, such as outdated zoning codes and parking requirements, and streamlining permitting and approval processes. Targeted incentives and financing programs are also needed to assist small-scale projects.
  8. 8. Read the full report. The Preservation Green Lab’s goals are to identify opportunities and to share solutions that benefit residents, property owners, investors, and community leaders alike. Read the complete Older, Smaller, Better report for more detailed results and recommendations, including the research methodology and community case studies.
  9. 9. The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America’s historic places. Preservation Tips & Tools helps others do the same in their own communities. For more information, visit blog.preservationnation.org. Photos courtesy: HerveBoinay, Flickr; Justin Kern, Flickr; AgnosticPreachersKid, Flickr; Kay Gaensler, Flickr; Sean Marshall, Flickr; Ken Lund, Flickr.