New Albany Renewal

New Albany Renewal is intended to serve as a repository for ideas relevant to preserving and restoring historic buildings, cleaning up neighboorhoods, revitalizing downtown, and improving the quality of life in New Albany, Indiana.

Location: New Albany, Indiana

Monday, January 30, 2006

Filling In

Another loyal reader (our readers have to be extremely loyal since our publication schedule is so sporadic) recently dropped off a copy of a Preservation Information booklet published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Design and Development of Infill Housing Compatible with Historic Neighborhoods by Ellen Beasley.

Since I have not been able to find the text of this very informative booklet online I will try to summarize some of the main points.

Infill development fills a vacant parcel of land in an existing built-up area. This is not some new-fangled idea. It has been going on for decades. Any number of the buildings that we think of as old could have replaced even older buildings.

Preservationists have refined the concept of infill by placing an emphasis on relating the new design to the existing, surrounding context. What is considered an acceptable design may vary according to the neighborhood.

Design is probably the biggest concern when considering infill development projects and “neighborhood residents at all economic levels have become more demanding regarding the design and construction quality of infill projects”.

The booklet focused mainly on small-scale infill projects and gave a number of reasons that various groups would be interested in such projects:

*Members of a neighborhood group want to ensure residential, rather than commercial, construction and buy a vacant lot to control development.

*A private developer sees an opportunity for profit.

*An individual home owner is attracted by an urban historic district, but wants a new house.

*A preservation group wants to demonstrate the feasibility of designing and constructing a compatible infill project.

*A city wants to put vacant land back on tax rolls.

The development process is outlined as follows:

1. Defining goals
2. Researching the project site
3. Understanding the market and the neighborhood
4. Structuring the development team and obtaining financing
5. Writing a project program
6. Selecting an architect
7. Designing the project
8. Beginning construction
9. Making the process work

Through out the discussion of the development process, participation of the neighborhood is stressed. Cooperation between the neighborhood and the developer is the key to a successful project. Some of the benefits of cooperation that are mentioned are:

*Developing an awareness and understanding of each other’s goals and interests.
*Identifying shared goals and ways to achieve them.
*Creating a defined procedure for neighborhood involvement and review.
*Minimizing surprises and misunderstandings during the planning and construction of an infill project.
*Obtaining financing and zoning variances.
*Promoting positive media coverage for the neighborhood and the developer.

A very informative case study of a project in the Edgefield neighborhood of Nashville, TN is included. This extremely successful project, which began in 1984, included the construction of a variety of housing types-condominiums, apartments, and single-family houses-in a designated historic district with 10% vacant land.

Statistics gathered in 1997 for the booklet showed that property values of both the new and old houses in the Edgefield district increased since the mid-1980s although the Nashville real estate market saw a period of flat appreciation from 1988 to 1992.

If you are interested in or concerned about infill development, remember neighborhood cooperation and design are the two most important factors for success. And, it wouldn't hurt to get your hands on a copy of this booklet either.

Preparing the Next Generation

One of our loyal readers asks you to take a look at the following website:

Urban Plan is a program where "high school students learn the roles, issues, trade-offs, and economics involved in urban development. It provides our future voters, neighbors, community leaders, public officials, and land use professionals with a hands-on experience in developing realistic land use solutions to vexing urban growth challenges."

The Urban Plan website points out that the population of the United States will grow by 60 million people in the next 20 years. Land use questions will become increasingly more complex and more difficult to make and the next generation needs to be equipped to make those decisions.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cultural Landscape

Have you encountered the term cultural landscape?

An essay in the July/August 2005 issue of Preservation says this,

". . .a "cultural landscape," a phrase that is increasingly being used these days by those interested in preserving not just structures but also settings. This new emphasis amounts to preserving what's left of the character of the country, built and natural, and is bound to gather strength as preservationsists realize that well-maintained historic buildings are diminshed by wrecked surroundings.

Cultual landscapes reflect an activity or characteristic that shaped them historically."

Our cultural landscape includes the Ohio River, the knobs, and farmland. What will we keep and what will we give up to new development?

Something to think about.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Progress Report: Preservation Forum 2005

I have been in the middle of an organizing frenzy (New Year's resolutions and such) and I ran across some notes that I took at the Preservation Forum last May.

The forum was titled Preserve New Albany's Older and Historic Neighborhoods and Historic Landmark's Greg Sekula was the moderator. Around 40 people attended and participated in the discussion.

Greg started the discussion that night by identifying 3 barriers to living in older neighborhoods:

Schools (lack of or lack of quality)
Rental property
Run down property

There was quite a bit of discussion of how to market older houses and older neighborhoods. How do you identify and reach people who would like to live in an older house and/or an urban setting?

One suggestion that was made was starting a website designed to market older homes. I am pleased to remind you that this suggestion was acted on promptly and a wonderful website is up and running.
Another marketing oppotunity that was identified was to market the neighborhoods to people in Louisville. I beleive that the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association has included this as one of their goals for 2006.

A representative from National City Bank told us that the bank is open to lending for homes in older neighborhoods. A marketing plan is needed in order for this to be effective. I don't remember enough details to know if the neighborhood plans that are currently being worked on could be used for this purpose.

One other suggestion was to start an informal group of old house lovers in order to keep people who are living in older homes in touch with each other. Sounds like an opportunity.

Just a reminder of the progress that has been made in less than a year.

Plans are underway now for numerous activities during Preservation Month ( May) 2006.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Could This Build New Albany?

Take a look at this article by Betsy Pettit, president of Building Science Corp., that originally appeared in the June/July issue of Fine Homebuilding magazine which discusses the Building American program through the U.S. Department of Energy.

The objectives of Building America,, are to build homes on a community scale that:
  • Use less energy
  • Are faster to build
  • Cost less
  • Provide a healthy environment for inhabitants
  • The house is desinged as an infill house and the author gives a very good explanation of the advantages of infill.
To me the house doesn't seem designed to be a starter house (after all 2,880 sq ft sounds huge to someone who lives with another person in less than 1,000 sq ft) and while the article talks a lot about affordable construction it doesn't offer this as a solution for low-income housing. A house like this would be for someone who wants to live in an urban neighborhood while enjoying the features of a new house.

Friday, January 13, 2006

DIY Neighborhood Improvement

I attended a neighborhood association meeting where one of our city council representatives advised us that the best way to clean up our neighborhood was to buy up the properties surrounding ours. For many reasons that I won't go into here it was appalling to me that this was his solution to the problems in the neighborhood.

However, I have an article from the January 2005 issue of Kentucky Monthly magazine that shows how a version of this approach is working well for one neighborhood.

Kathy Carter and her husband originally bought a house at Chinn and Montgomery streets in Frankfort, KY in 1972. By 2000 the condition of the neighborhood had declined and after her husband's death motivated Kathy to "do something in life" she hatched a plan to buy and improve 10 houses on her block.

One at a time as houses went on the market Kathy bought them and with the help of a contractor friend she improved them. As of January 2005 she was on number 8.

Carter's work served as a model for transforming a neighborhood. Frankfort now has a task force to restore blighted neighborhoods.

One more thing, Kathy Carter ran for city council in November 2004 and not only won but received more votes than anyone-- even longstanding incumbents.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Markets Build Relationships

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and sustaining public places that build communities.

I ran across a brief article on PPS in the Oct/Nov 2005 issue of Dwell magazine. This organization was started 30 years ago to help reclaim and rejuvenate shared spaces.

One of its most successful programs facilitates the creation of public markets all over the world.

President of PPS, Fred Kent was quoted in Dwell saying, "What people really want, more than anything, is a place to connect and create chance encounters with others."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Get Up Off the Couch: Ideas for Building Community

First, my apologies to author Haven Kimmel whose second memior, She Got Up Off the Couch, inspired my title.

Building community isn't hopeless. As you will see from this list there are many easy things that we can all do. The best thing about most of these ideas is that you will gain more than you give by doing many of them.

Need a New Year's resolution? Pick a few of these and see how easy it is to contribute to your community and keep your resolutions.

For Kids

Boundless Playgrounds is a national non-profit organization that helps build play areas that are accessible to kids of all developmental levels. In addition to helping with design they help with funding by matching playground projects with potential funders.

This organization believes that every community should have at least one playground that is available to children of all abilities. There is only one in the entire state of Indiana.