Older, Smaller Buildings = More Productive Urban Places, by National Trust for Historic Preservation

File Type: Free Content, Article
Release Date: May 2014
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Older, smaller buildings might result in less impressive skylines than newer, larger skyscrapers, but they make for more vibrant, walkable communities with more businesses, nightlife and cultural outlets, according to “Older, Smaller, Better: Measuring How the Character of Buildings and Blocks Influences Urban Vitality,” a report released in mid-May by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Researchers evaluated block-by-block data on 40 economic, social, cultural and environmental metrics from San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. They found that on a per-square-foot basis, areas with older, smaller buildings have a larger concentration of jobs and businesses than those with larger, predominantly new buildings. In Seattle, for example, commercial areas with smaller and older buildings have almost 37 percent more jobs per square foot than areas with newer, larger ones.

The study’s key findings include the following: Older, mixed-use neighborhoods are more walkable.

  • Young people love old buildings.
  • The most vibrant nightlife is found on streets with a diverse range of building ages.
  • Older business districts offer greater opportunities for entrepreneurship.
  • Cultural outlets and creative jobs thrive in older, mixed-use neighborhoods.
  • Older, smaller buildings support the local economy with more non-chain, locally owned businesses.

The report was produced by the Preservation Green Lab, an initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation that works closely with local and national partners to develop innovative content, strategic partnerships, research and public policies that save places. It represents the culmination of the first phase of a three-year study; a second phase is now underway to explore cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other markets with higher levels of vacancy and disinvestment.