Temple University Death and Life of Great American Cities Questions Read the 2 articles below and provide 2 questions pertaining to the readings. Read comp

Temple University Death and Life of Great American Cities Questions Read the 2 articles below and provide 2 questions pertaining to the readings. Read completely and ask 2 thoughtful questions for discussion with rest of class 10
The need for aged buildings
3: The district must mingle buildings that
vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of
old ones.
Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for
vigorous streets and districts to grow without them. By old buildings I mean not museum-piece old buildings, not old buildings
in an excellent and expensive state of rehabilitation—although
these make fine ingredients—but also a good lot of plain, ordinary,
low-value old buildings, including some rundown old buildings.
If a city area has only new buildings, the enterprises that can
exist there are automatically limited to those that can support
the high costs of new construction. These high costs of occupying new buildings may be levied in the form of rent, or they may
be levied in the form of an owner’s interest and amortization
payments on the capital costs of the construction. However the
costs are paid off, they have to be paid off. And for this reason,
enterprises that support the cost of new construction must be
capable of paying a relatively high overhead—high in comparison
to that necessarily required by old buildings. To support such
high overheads, the enterprises must be either (a) high profit or
(b) well subsidized.
If you look about, you will see that only operations that are
well established, high-turnover, standardized or heavily subsidized
can afford, commonly, to carry the costs of new construction.
Chain stores, chain restaurants and banks go into new construction. But neighborhood bars, foreign restaurants and pawn shops
go into older buildings. Supermarkets and shoe stores often go
into new buildings; good bookstores and antique dealers seldom
do. Well-subsidized opera and art museums often go into new
buildings. But the unformalized feeders of the arts—studios, galleries, stores for musical instruments and art supplies, backrooms
where the low earning power of a seat and a table can absorb
uneconomic discussions—these go into old buildings. Perhaps
more significant, hundreds of ordinary enterprises, necessary to
the safety and public life of streets and neighborhoods, and appreciated for their convenience and personal quality, can make
out successfully in old buildings, but are inexorably slain by the
high overhead of new construction.
As for really new ideas of any kind—no matter how ultimately
profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to
be—there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction.
Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use
old buildings.
Even the enterprises that can support new construction in cities
need old construction in their immediate vicinity. Otherwise they
are part of a total attraction and total environment that is economically t?o limited—and therefore functionally too limited to
be lively, interesting and convenient. Flourishing diversity anywhere in a city means the mingling of high-yield, middling-yield,
low-yield and no-yield enterprises.
The only harm of aged buildings to a city district or street is
the harm that eventually comes of nothing but old age—the harm
The need for aged buildings [189
that lies In everything being old and everything becoming worn
out. But a city area in such a situation is not a failure because of
being all old. It is the other way around. The area is all old because it is a failure. For some other reason or combination of reasons, all its enterprises or people are unable to support new construction. It has, perhaps, failed to hang on to its own people or
enterprises that do become successful enough to support new
building or rehabilitation; they leave when they become this successful. It has also failed to attract newcomers with choice; they
see no opportunities or attractions here. And in some cases, such
an area may be so infertile economically that enterprises which
might grow into successes in other places, and build or rebuild
their shelter, never make enough money in this place to do so.
A successful city district becomes a kind of ever-normal granary so far as construction is concerned. Some of the old buildings,
year by year, are replaced by new ones—or rehabilitated to a degree equivalent to replacement. Over the years there is, therefore,
constantly a mixture of buildings of many ages and types. This
is, of course, a dynamic process, with what was once new in the
mixture eventually becoming what is old in the mixture.
We are dealing here again, as we were in the case of mixed
primary uses, with the economic effects of time. But in this case
we are dealing with the economics of time not hour by hour
through the day, but with the economics of time by decades and
Time makes the high building costs of one generation the bargains of a following generation. Time pays off original capital
costs, and this depreciation can be reflected in the yields required
from a building. Time makes certain structures obsolete for some
enterprises, and they become available to others. Time can make
These are all reasons having to do with inherent, built-in handicaps.
There is another reason, however, why some city districts age unremittingly, and this other reason has nothing to do, necessarily, with inherent
flaws. The district may have been blacklisted, in a concerted way, by mortgage lenders, the way Boston’s North End has been. This means of dooming a neighborhood to inexorable wearing out is both common and destructive. But for the moment we are dealing with the conditions that affect
a city area’s inherent economic ability to generate diversity and staying
the space efficiencies of one generation the space luxuries of another generation. One century’s building commonplace is another
century’s useful aberration.
The economic necessity for old buildings mixed with new is
not an oddity connected with the precipitous rise in building costs
since the war, and especially throughout the 1950’s. To be sure,
the difference between the yield most postwar building must
bring and the yield that pre-Depression buildings must bring is
especially sharp. In commercial space, the difference between carrying costs per square foot can be as much as 100 or 200 percent,
even though the older buildings may be better built than the new,
and even though the maintenance costs of all buildings, including
old ones, have risen. Old buildings were a necessary ingredient
of city diversity back in the 1920’s and the 1890’s. Old buildings
will still be a necessity when today’s new buildings are the old
ones. This has been, still is, and will be, true no matter how
erratic or how steady construction costs themselves are, because
a depreciated building requires less income than one which has
not yet paid off its capital costs. Steadily rising construction costs
simply accentuate the need for old buildings. Possibly they also
make necessary a higher proportion of old buildings in the total
street or district mixture, because rising building costs raise the
general threshold of pecuniary success required to support the
costs of new construction.
A few years ago, I gave a talk at a city design conference
about the social need for commercial diversity in cities. Soon my
words began coming back at me from designers, planners and
students in the form of a slogan (which I certainly did not invent) : “We must leave room for the corner grocery store!”
At first I thought this must be a figure of speech, the part
standing for the whole. But soon I began to receive in the mail
plans and drawings for projects and renewal areas in which, literally, room had been left here and there at great intervals for a
corner grocery store. These schemes were accompanied by letters that said, “See, we have taken to heart what you said.”
This corner-grocery gimmick is a thin, patronizing conception
The need for aged buildings L ?9?
of city diversity, possibly suited to a village of the last century,
but hardly to a vital city district of today. Lone little groceries,
in fact, do badly in cities as a rule. They are typically a mark of
stagnant and undiverse gray area.
Nevertheless, the designers of these sweetly meant inanities
were not simply being perverse. They were doing, probably, the
best they could under the economic conditions set for them. A
suburban-type shopping center at some place in the project, and
this wan spotting of corner groceries, were the most that could
be hoped for. For these were schemes contemplating either great
blankets of new construction, or new construction combined
with extensive, prearranged rehabilitation. Any vigorous range of
diversity was precluded in advance by the consistently high overhead. (The prospects are made still poorer by insufficient primary
mixtures of uses and therefore insufficient spread of customers
through the day.)
Even the lone groceries, if they were ever built,* could hardly
be the cozy enterprises envisioned by their designers. To carry
their high overhead, they must either be (a) subsidized—by
whom and why?—or (b) converted into routinized, high-turnover mills.
Large swatches of construction built at one time are inherently
inefficient for sheltering wide ranges of cultural, population, and
business diversity. They are even inefficient for sheltering much
range of mere commercial diversity. This can be seen at a place
like Stuyvesant Town in New York. In 1959, more than a decade
after operation began, of the 32 store fronts that comprise Stuyvesant Town’s commercial space, seven were either empty or
were being used uneconomicaily (for storage, window advertising only, and the like). This represented disuse or underuse of
22 percent of the fronts. At the same time, across the bordering
streets, where buildings of every age and condition are mingled,
were 140 store fronts, of which 11 were empty or used uneconomicaily, representing a disuse or underuse of only 7 percent.
Actually, the disparity is greater than this would appear, because
* They are usually dropped from the plans, or indefinitely postponed, at
the time when the economic realities of rents must be faced.
the empty fronts in the old streets were mostly small, and in
linear feet represented less than 7 percent, a condition which was
not true of the project stores. The good business side of the street
is the age-mingled side, even though a great share of its customers
are Stay vesant Town people, and even though they must cross
wide and dangerous traffic arteries to reach it. This reality is
acknowledged by the chain stores and supermarkets too, which
have been building new quarters in the age-mingled setting instead of filling those empty fronts in the project.
One-age construction in city areas is sometimes protected nowadays from the threat of more efficient and responsive commercial competition. This protection—which is nothing more or less
than commercial monopoly—is considered very “progressive” in
planning circles. The Society Hill renewal plan for Philadelphia
will, by zoning, prevent competition to its developer’s shopping
centers throughout a whole city district. The city’s planners have
also worked out a “food plan” for the area, which means offering
a monopolistic restaurant concession to a single restaurant chain
for the whole district. Nobody else’s food allowed! The Hyde
Park-Kenwood renewal district of Chicago reserves a monopoly
on almost all commerce for a suburban-type shopping center to
be the property of that plan’s principal developer. In the huge
Southwest redevelopment district of Washington, the major
housing developer seems to be going so far as to eliminate competition with himself. The original plans for this scheme contemplated a central, suburban-type shopping center plus a smattering of convenience stores—our old friend, the lonely corner
grocery gimmick. A shopping center economist predicted that
these convenience stores might lead to diminished business for
the main, suburban-type center which, itself, will have to support
high overhead. To protect it, the convenience stores were
dropped from the scheme. It is thus that routinized monopolistic
packages of substitute city are palmed off as “planned shopping.”
Monopoly planning can make financial successes of such inherently inefficient and stagnant one-age operations. But it cannot thereby create, in some magical fashion, an equivalent to city
diversity. Nor can it substitute for the inherent efficiency, in
cities, of mingled age and inherently varied overhead.
The need for aged buildings [193
Age of buildings, in relation to usefulness or desirability, is an
extremely relative thing. Nothing in a vital city district seems to
be too old to be chosen for use by those who have choice—or to
have its place taken, finally, by something new. And this usefulness of the old is not simply a matter of architectural distinction
or charm. In the Back-of-die-Yards, Chicago, no weather-beaten,
undistinguished, run-down, presumably obsolete frame house
seems to be too far gone to lure out savings and to instigate borrowing—because this is a neighborhood that people are not leaving as they achieve enough success for choice. In Greenwich Village, almost no old building is scorned by middle-class families
hunting a bargain in a lively district, or by rehabilitators seeking
a golden egg. In successful districts, old buildings “filter up.”
At the other extreme, in Miami Beach, where novelty is the
sovereign remedy, hotels ten years old are considered aged and are
passed up because others are newer. Newness, and its superficial
gloss of well-being, is a very perishable commodity.
Many city occupants and enterprises have no need for new
construction. The floor of the building in which this book is being written is occupied also by a health club with a gym, a firm
of ecclesiastical decorators, an insurgent Democratic party reform club, a Liberal party political club, a music society, an accordionists’ association, a retired importer who sells mate by
mail, a man who sells paper and who also takes care of shipping
the mate, a dental laboratory, a studio for watercolor lessons,
and a maker of costume jewelry. Among the tenants who were
here and gone shortly before I came in, were a man who rented
out tuxedos, a union local and a Haitian dance troupe. There is no
place for the likes of us in new construction. And the last thing
we need is new construction. What we need, and a lot of others
need, is old construction in a lively district, which some among
us can help make livelier.
Nor is new residential building in cities an unadulterated good.
Many disadvantages accompany new residential city building; and
No, the last thing we need is some paternalist weighing whether we are
sufficiently noncontroversial to be admitted to subsidized quarters in a
Utopian dream city.
the value placed on various advantages, or the penalties accruing
from certain disadvantages, are given different weights by different people. Some people, for instance, prefer more space for the
money (or equal space for less money) to a new dinette designed for midgets. Some people like walls they don’t hear
through. This is an advantage they can get with many old buildings but not with new apartments, whether they are public housing at $14 a room per month or luxury housing at $95 a room per
month. Some people would rather pay for improvements in
their living conditions partly in labor and ingenuity, and by selecting which improvements are most important to them, instead
of being indiscriminately improved, and all at a cost of money.
In spontaneously unslumming slums, where people are staying
by choice, it is easy to observe how many ordinary citizens have
heard of color, lighting and furnishing devices for converting
deep or dismal spaces into pleasant and useful rooms, have heard
of bedroom air-conditioning and of electric window fans, have
learned about taking out non-bearing partitions, and have even
learned about throwing two too small flats into one. Minglings
of old buildings, with consequent minglings in living costs and
tastes, are essential to get diversity and stability in residential
populations, as well as diversity in enterprises.
Among the most admirable and enjoyable sights to be found
along the sidewalks of big cities are the ingenious adaptations of
old quarters to new uses. The town-house parlor that becomes a
craftsman’s showroom, the stable that becomes a house, the basement that becomes an immigrants’ club, the garage or brewery
that becomes a theater, the beauty parlor that becomes the
ground floor of a duplex, the warehouse that becomes a factory
for Chinese food, the dancing school that becomes a pamphlet
printer’s, the cobbler’s that becomes a church with lovingly
painted windows—the stained glass of the poor—the butcher shop
diat becomes a restaurant: these are the kinds of minor changes
“Dear, are you sure the stove is one of the 51 exciting reasons we’re living
in Washington Square Village?” asks the wife in a cartoon issued by protesting tenants in an expensive New York redevelopment project. “You’ll
have to speak up, honey,” replies the husband. “Our neighbor just flushed
his toilet.”
The need for aged buildings [195
forever occurring where city districts have vitality and are responsive to human needs.
Consider the history of the no-yield space that has recently
been rehabilitated by the Arts in Louisville Association as a theater, music room, art gallery, library, bar and restaurant. It
started life as a fashionable athletic club, outlived that and became a school, then the stable of a dairy company, then a riding
school, then a finishing and dancing school, another athletic club,
an artist’s studio, a school again, a blacksmith’s, a factory, a warehouse, and it is now a flourishing center of the arts. Who could
anticipate or provide for such a succession of hopes and schemes?
Only an unimaginative man would think he could; only an arrogant man would want to.
These eternal changes and permutations among old city buildings can be called makeshifts only in the most pedantic sense. It
is rather that a form of raw material has been found in the right
place. It has been put to a use that might otherwise be unborn.
What is makeshift and woebegone is to see city diversity outlawed. Outside the vast, middle-income Bronx project of Parkchester, where the standardized, routinized commerce (with its
share of empty fronts) is protected from unauthorized competition or augmentation within the project, we can see such an outcast huddle, supported by Parkchester people. Beyond a corner
of the project, hideously clumped on a stretch of pocked asphalt
left over from a gas station, are a few of the other things the
project people apparently need: quick loans, musical instruments,
camera exchange, Chinese restaurant, odd-lot clothing. How
many other needs remain unfilled? What is wanted becomes academic when mingled building age is replaced by the economic
rigor mortis of one-age construction, with its inherent inefficiency
and consequent need for forms of “protectionism.”
Cities need a mingling of old buildings to cultivate primarydiversity mixtures, as well as secondary diversity. In particular,
they need old buildings to incubate new primary diversity.
If the incubation is successful enough, the yield of the buildings
can, and often does, rise. Grady Clay reports that this is already
observable, for instance, in the Louisville sample-shoe market.
“Rents were very low when the market began to attract shoppers,” he says. “For a shop about twenty feet by forty feet, they
were $25 to $50 a month….
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