Who Says Bigger is Better? Small Buildings Better for Neighborhoods
Neighborhoods with a mix of older, smaller buildings make for more vibrant, walkable communities with more businesses, nightlife and culture than massive new buildings, according to a new study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The study to be released Thursday, examined block-by-block data from Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in part for their hot real estate markets and development pressures. It found neighborhoods with smaller, older buildings generally perform better for the local economy than areas with newer buildings that stretch an entire block.
Researchers found older buildings become magnets for young people, shops, restaurants, small businesses owned by women and minorities and jobs. On a per-square-foot basis, small business corridors have a greater concentration of jobs, businesses and creative jobs than downtown skyscrapers. They also make for neighborhoods that are active from morning to night, said lead researcher Michael Powe.
The study examined such historic neighborhoods as Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and Chinatown International District and Washington, D.C.’s Barracks Row and burgeoning H Street corridor where a new streetcar line is being built.
National Trust President Stephanie Meeks said the group hopes developers and city planners will take a second look at the potential of smaller buildings and historic neighborhoods in their future planning.
"There is a lot of economic capability in older and smaller buildings and in historic districts that’s often overlooked," she said.
The study is the start of a larger initiative also examining Baltimore, Philadelphia and other cities with less robust real estate markets. Researchers want to know if their findings hold up in newer cities as well or less prosperous areas.
"We hear from time to time, ’well, it’s just easier to tear it down and to start over,’" Meeks said. "So we feel compelled to put the strongest argument forward that it’s worth the effort to invest in these places, not just from a cultural standpoint but from an economic standpoint."