Good planning and rehabbing can give old buildings and cities new leases on life, argues this savvy manifesto on urban redevelopment.
Cort, a California real estate developer, specializes in buying distressed, decrepit old houses and buildings in bad parts of town, remodeling them with modern amenities while preserving their historic ambiance, and then renting or selling them for a profit. The result, he argues, is a thriving business model that also helps jump-start residential and commercial revitalization in blighted neighborhoods. He spotlights a number of his projects in the struggling city of Stockton, California, and the coastal town of Pacific Grove, which run the gamut: spruced-up Victorians, a renovated apartment building with ground-floor businesses that create an “urban village,” an abandoned factory that becomes a social services center, a derelict office building turned into a law library, an initiative to get municipal electricity from solar panels, etc. The subject of real estate development can be dry, but Cort manages to make his accounts of these projects both lucid and interesting as he explains aspects of creative financing for properties that lenders often see as bad investments or tax and subsidy concerns. Renovating to building code can be challenging, he says, though good tenants will enhance a building’s value; there’s also the consideration of selecting public art to be on display within the building. Along the way, Cort explains his urbanist and preservationist philosophies of redevelopment, which owe much to Jane Jacobs and James Howard Kunstler; he decries the sprawl that sucks businesses and tax base away from downtowns to the exurbs, and he extols the sustainability, liveliness and community values of dense, mixed-use inner-city districts. (The book’s many color photos of his projects show their considerable charm to good advantage.) Brimming with ideas and expert insights, Cort’s introduction to the subject of preservationist development will appeal to real estate professionals, planners, activists and anyone who cherishes neglected architectural treasures.
An intellectually and visually stimulating guide to the kind of development that restores, rather than paves over, America’s civic tradition.