Do you ever browse the New York Times real estate section slide shows? I find them endlessly entertaining, whether it’s for the purpose of gazing at beautiful houses I’ll never afford, gawking at monstrosities that I would never want to afford or own, loving historic, rehabilitated or renovated houses in neighborhoods across the country, or just feeding general curiosity of what homes look like on the inside. So when a slide show entitled “In Need of Some Work” appeared for apartments in New York, it sounded interesting. There is an accompanying article, “For the Right Price, the Right Fixer-Upper” by Elizabeth A. Harris (1o.30.2009).
As I’m reading the captions and looking at the photographs I saw some less-than contemporary improvements like wall-to-wall carpeting and wood accordion doors. There were some wonderful features like 1930s sinks and tile bathroom floors. Classic. But, wait – those captions kept referring to the kitchens and bathrooms needed to be gutted. What!? Sure, the kitchens needed to be upgraded in terms of appliances, but why get rid of a sink full of historic character and definition? Take this statement from slide 24, “The kitchen, which also looks “prewar,” needs a total overhaul.” Excuse me? Why is “prewar” given the connotation of something horribly out of style? Some people like that look. I would love a prewar kitchen.
And I’m not saying that everyone has to love that. Maybe some people like those accordion doors, too. That’s great because we all have different tastes. But why is there this judgment on everything just because it’s old? Call it a fixer-upper, but don’t assume that everyone will want to toss away the prewar kitchen or the bathroom floor. See, how cool is that prewar kitchen? Check it out at Levittown, PA: Building the Suburban Dream.
It is not the practice on Preservation in Pink to post random news articles, but I think that “What Will Save the Suburbs?” by Allison Arieff from January 11, 2009 in the New York Times is worth posting and reading. Arieff discusses the fact that while urban development can often find new uses, suburban development simply sits abandoned without any hope for a new use. Thus, we are left with abandoned big-box stores, tracts of land cleared but undeveloped, and massive amounts of building material that no one knows how to use.
A quote from the article:
In urban areas, there’s rich precedent for the transformation or reuse of abandoned lots or buildings. Vacant lots have been converted into pocket parks, community gardens and pop-up stores (or they remain vacant, anxiously awaiting recovery and subsequent conversion into high-end office space condos). Old homes get divided into apartments, old factories into lofts, old warehouses into retail.
Projects like Manhattan’s High Line show that even derelict train tracks can be turned into something as valuable to citizens as a vibrant public park. A brownfield site in San Francisco has been cleaned up and will house an eco-literacy center for the city’s youth. Hey, even a dump (Fresh Kills, on Staten Island) is undergoing a remarkable metamorphosis into a recreation area.
But similar transformation within the carefully delineated form of a subdivision is not so simple. These insta-neighborhoods were not designed or built for flexibility or change.
So what to do with the abandoned houses, the houses that were never completed or the land that was razed for building and now sits empty?
Arieff goes on in her article to discuss literature about big box reuse and then switches to how President Obama’s new policies could affect suburban infrastructure and development.
It’s a good, thought provoking read and there are hundreds of comments posted by readers as well. Enjoy! Share your comments, if you are so inclined.