Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Urban Backfill

Sacramento is examining the utilization of alley space to allow more development in the already well-developed mid and downtown areas (as reported in this article from the Sacramento Bee, and this article from New Geography looks at the principle in a larger sense.

First, an excerpt from the Bee article.

“As prime storefronts fill up in midtown, and as lease rates escalate, the hunt is on for new, affordable space.

"They're not making any more land in midtown," said Zeth, adapting Mark Twain's adage: "Buy land – they're not making it anymore."

“Zeth is one of a group of developers who are groundbreaking their way to a new concept for the city: turn alleys into lanes of commerce and urban living, complementary venues to established stalwarts on midtown streets.

“Developers and other supporters are joining together to win city backing on plans to convert three alleys: the restaurant row, another alley with new condominiums and a third with new landscaping, including solar lighting.”

And from the New Geography article.

“Back fill provides an alternative below the line. Overlooked spaces are being discovered by many people as ideal for temporary use, and with only a small cost for a license or permit, new marketplaces, street performances, and other people-intensive activities are rushing in to fill the void. Again, a city with any savvy will try to apply a regulatory and fee drag on this activity; fortunately for the citizens, this usually takes a long time, and in the meantime, many cities are acquiring the look of a genteel form of Blade Runner, with person-to-person commerce taking place among the currently decaying and abandoned edifices and infrastructure.

“Still other parts of the city are trying to beautify their abandoned spaces by planting them, sometimes with gardens, figuring lush landscapes can hide the fact that their core is not as desirable as it once was. And still others fence them off, creating a new canvas for graffiti artists and advertising, and returning the abandoned spaces into wilderness.

“All of this belongs to the study of old field succession, which traditionally has been an agricultural science. For urban cores, this approach suggests a new way to reuse abandoned space. Increasingly, agriculture may not belong exclusively to the rural condition, but can be adapted to the city itself.”