Evolution calling.

Sometimes wisdom comes from the most unusual or unlikely of places. Case in point, a thread on Fark.com which uses a series of webpages documenting the abandoned environs of East St. Louis to launch a discussion. I had a friend once from there, and he would tell of the streets with 2 houses and 30 empty lots reclaimed by nature.

Now Fark.com is not exactly the Oppenheimer Think Tank that the first paragraph makes it sound like. The normal headlines run from the informative breaking news to the downright strange. Example: Man points gun-looking cordless drill at officer. Officer shoots gun-looking gun at man.

But being that Fark is open for anyone to comment (after registration and mandatory waiting period), it can be an interesting read. One little nugget stuck out in the comments of the thread above.

only way to fix the plight of the cities is to simply go back. " - smackem81

Followed a few comments later by this, from QuailhuntingwithCheney: "In alot of areas this is starting to happen. The young profesionals can't afford the exorbant housing costs, and don't want to live way out in the 'burbs, spending three hours a day in traffic isn't worth it. Plus as an added bonus mass transit is actually usable in most major metros.

Several people I know have bought houses in "bad parts of town" and are remodeling them to their liking, it's cheaper than a brand new cookie cutter home.And the houses are great, really ornate and have been standing over 100 years. I'd like to see how many of today's shoddily built houses will stand that long."

The technical name is Gentrification.. Gentrification, or more specifically urban gentrification, is a process in which low-cost, physically deteriorated neighborhoods experience physical renovation and an increase in property values, along with an influx of increasingly wealthier residents who typically displace the prior residents. (via Wikipedia)

And to that I would like to add the following if: IF there are prior residents.

Sections of Old Southwest, West End, Southeast, and other places around Roanoke have a multitude of empty lots with stairs. They also, Southeast and Old Southwest/West End especially, have a problem with historic houses vacant for a generation and rotten to the foundation. Think of the houses towards the far end of Elm/Patterson/Rorer to the west, and Church/Tazwell/Stuart to the east. Overlooking downtown itself are some of the best arguments for gentrification - but gentrification is dependent upon investment. And investment comes at a price.

This process, however, has it's faults. Having seen some of the gentrification which is still ongoing in New York City, I can tell you firsthand that gentrification usually begins with a single house, and ends with utter defeat. Defeat of the local population which struggled to live and work in the area they could afford. As the local houses are remodeled, remanufactured, and revitalized - the home values go up. Property taxes go up. And the neighborhood in which they lived suddenly becomes too expensive for them to afford.

It is not always a win-win situation. However, there is a way I believe that you can have gentrification without the high cost.

Valley Forward has put forth a proposal to rebuild Rockledge on Mill Mountain again. A full business proposal, waiting for an investor. It's an idea not without it's merits, but it speaks to one word: upscale.

We all want. The very nature of humanity is to want better, want more. More being defined by ones own wants and needs. What the young urban/urbane professional needs to recognize is that they are decidedly NOT what makes a city run. The blue collar workers, the labor jobs, the ones who work for someone else truly make a city what it is. The Young Professionals just fund it. For all it's money and importance, Manhattan could still be crippled by a garbage strike - the plumbers will always charge high rates because they do what most cannot. The very things that make New York City important are all serviced by working class stiffs.

Upscale only appeals to a certain sector of the population, and at this fragile moment in Roanoke's evolution - upscale is the last thing it should be worried about. This "community gentrification" needs some serious forward thinkers - those who are not afraid to try something new.

Why not a multiple layer property tax? This way, if you have been in a home for X number of years, you will not be taxed out of your community. Your taxes will still rise, but not at the same rate as a just-flipped home which sells for twice your assessed value. Historic tax credits for rebuilding a home (like some of those on Elm, or Jamison) to original stock, small city-backed loans for minor house repair and improvement, provided it falls within certain guidelines. An overhaul of the Architectural Review Board, and citywide implementation of "suggestions."(from the public)

Perhaps even to the point of "job-lot" purchasing by the city itself, for resale at a discounted rate to homeowners. Similar to the Habitat store. And rather than just arbitrarily demolish a home in poor repair - allow certified contractors to pick it over and salvage whatever possible for use in other homes and projects. There are numerous examples of homes in absolute abandon which still have architectural pieces in workable condition. Black Dog is a nice company, but not everyone can afford a tri-panel stained glass window to replace the one in the attic which is ruined, but is the same piece. The city could salvage them on it's own, and then turn and sell them to the public - at a small profit.

One of the things which makes gentrification work for everyone in the community is the city itself being involved in the process. We all know the City Council cannot see big picture, but what many don't realize is how often they cannot see the little one either. The most ambitious and important document in the past 10 years is the Vision 2001-2020 plan, of which precious little has been acted on. Looking at the 2006 report of what HAS been done, the only notable change enacted was the new zoning regulations. Everything else is from years past, and only 1/10th what could have been achieved.

Perhaps Valley Forward should commit its capabilities more towards rebuilding Roanoke as a whole, instead of the novelties. It's all well and good to have a amphitheater, but you need to have people to both staff and fill it. With the drastic declines in housing opportunities (ie. anything new is over 200k, anything old is either more expensive or in undesirable shape/neighborhood) the target audience for these changes will be more transient than rooted.

Again, I'm not against the idea of Rockledge being rebuilt - I'm just questioning the importance of it. Again, ask yourself - is the picture an 8x10, or wallet sized?

note: the view from the proposed Rockledge would be of South Roanoke, Old Southwest, and Downtown - a nice view, just don't have high powered telescopes for the public to use. They might get a glimpse of "certain" areas.


Anonymous said...

Roanoke Fark party Saturday Feb 17th at Awful Arthur's, Towers.

You can rub elbows with the Oppenheimer Think Tank rejects.

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone could go to the landfill, pick up the remains of the "Lonesome Dive", I mean "Dove", and rebuild it atop Mill Mountain. And all it's former patrons could make the trip up the mountain.