With several hundred vacant buildings in Newburgh, NY owned by the city, the city needs to take drastic action to stop the decay and reverse the momentum immediately.
While the excuses of lost jobs, crime and the effects of urban renewal can be reflected upon, the lack of motivated intelligent and experienced direction is at the heart of the city’s failures. I too hear the voices of ‘oh I hope someone renovates this majestic structure one day’ and while everyone can share this sentiment it just isn’t enough to affect actual change, for if the city does not drastically modify its approach and attitude all those structures which hold so much potential will eventually need to be torn down, leaving more ‘urban renewal’ effects dotted throughout the city and thus further contributing to the decline of the city. The dam has broken and the water is all but gone. First step, repair and strengthen the dam in a way that is more self-maintaining, in order to prevent decay or a breach in the future… so the water may once again fill in the cavity.
The following are the five most important things the city can do to begin to stop the negative momentum and change people’s perception of the city as one of opportunity.
This article is small an extension of thorough analysis done in “Newburgh, NY, a Case Study in Urban Revitalization” by SimpleTwig Architecture, on our blog here: http://www.simpletwig.com/blog/?p=1702
- With 700± vacant properties, the city must begin to sell off at least a third of these properties for $1 (and ideally all of the properties for $1), and remove restrictions that might make renovation fail, while still ensuring that renovations do proceed. The suggested $1 selling price can be modified only by item 2 below as noted.
- Currently there is no property tax being generated from these properties. The city will make their money back when they collect property tax from real property owners. There is no reason (or excuse when the city is in dire financial condition) to ask $5000 for a property, until the tide has turned.
- The city must assist the new owner with securing the work site and lot, by providing quality fencing around the property in both the front and rear yards, as well as ensuring the ground floor and/or access to upper floors is fully secure. The front yard to have traditional iron, painted black, fencing at 2.5 to 3 feet high and the rear yard to have wood or PVC fencing at an elevation of at least 5′ above the ground with posts secured in concrete (dry or wet fill). Further, any overgrowth must be cut back. The cost of this could be absorbed by the city if they charge more than $1 dollar for the property.
- There is a significant problem with home break-ins, and people would rather abandon a property than put their life at risk. This is why the rear yard is critical for security protection, in that most rear yards in Newburgh do not have fencing and thus allow criminals to roam freely in the dark right up to the rear door, where they can’t be seen and can take their time in gaining access.
- With the off-set cost of providing fencing for the property linked to the cost of the property, the city essentially sells the property for $1, using any other funds from the sale for security enhancements to help ensure a confident home owner.
- This removes the burden of this task so the new owner can focus on the home renovation, which is in many or most cases, requiring extensive work (extensive work means: a concerted physical effort above normal, and, extra costs associated with achieving a finished habitable product).
- The city should focus reselling on specific streets, like Grand Street, to focus revitalization in a way that gives all investors/home owners in that local area the confidence that their own investment will be secure.
- There’s no point in dropping several hundred thousands of dollars into a home when the house next to you and the one across the street is abandoned, as the value of your investment will never be recovered. Therefore it is essential to encourage all homes on a block, street and eventually an area to be purchased and revitalized. This can be accomplished by selling at the right price (item 1) and providing incentives like security (item 2 above).
- The city must address the street, curb and sidewalk. As noted in “Newburgh, NY, a Case Study in Urban Revitalization” many of the streets in Newburgh are literally too wide causing a drain of resources to maintain when the streets themselves are little used (a wide street implies heavier traffic, yet many streets in Newburgh are short in length with no connections to outer parts of the city, and, the industrial use is not a factor), and, homes need larger front yards to provide fencing and gardens to increase both security and aesthetics (there are literally too many homes were one can simply walk up to a ground floor window that overlooks the sidewalk, which is ridiculous!).
- As mentioned in the previous article, many streets could and should become one way, to help narrow them. Therefore, the curb location should be adjusted to create a narrow street, new sidewalks and proper tree pits (not compacted mud zones).
- The revitalization of the curb and sidewalk will encourage renovations, as it successfully did on Smith Street in Brooklyn, NY which sat like a shell for decades until the city rebuilt the street, curbs and sidewalks, then investors bought-up everything either renovating or building new buildings, not only on the street but along all the side streets. Investors even connected Smith Street to the ‘projects’ which was once considered a ‘no-go zone’. The rebirth was outstanding and Smith Street is now considered a restaurant row, hosts several street fairs and festivals, and is one of the places ‘to be and live’ in Brooklyn, NY. I, Nick Buccalo of SimpleTwig Architecture, was influential in bringing trees to this street (it has a subway line running beneath the street and people thought trees would be impossible), as well as urging the city to revitalize it in the first place.
- Ensure the successful renovation of corner buildings, those which define what the street within hold.
- These corner buildings are the corner stones of the block. If they are weak, the block suffers. Everyday those who live on the block will always pass by the corner building, and it is these buildings that announces the condition of the block. Further, because it can be seen from different angles, and is thus considered more prominent, it clearly has a greater impact than a 20 foot wide single facade of an infill townhouse. While the infill townhouse has less surface area and is thus easier to renovate (costs less), it’s visual impact on the block is less. To put it another way, the renovation of the facade of a corner building equates roughly to the visual impact of renovating 3 or 4 infill townhouses. Both, in conjunction, are important for the success of the entire street, along with it’s sidewalks, fencing/gardens and street, for a street to feel alive again.
- In order to trigger the renovation of a block, and thus address the revitalization of at least one of the worst corner buildings, the city should help in the revitalization of the facade, to include the revitalization of the cornice, and if necessary the cleaning of the facade, and if necessary the replacement of all windows. This can be accomplished as noted in our previous article, by providing scaffolding that is secure from criminal intrusion. This one component will help the contractor revitalize the facade. As such, the city should not only provide the scaffolding but secure all the permits, insurance, and installation to guarantee the facade does get renovated. If the other corner buildings do not get renovated on their own within a year, the city should do the same for the next worst corner building, and so forth until private investors are triggered to do it themselves.
It is understood that the above will NOT cost the city ‘money’ because the return is based on having actual tax revenue coming back into the city from real home owners owning and maintaining their property… i.e. an abandoned property generates zero property tax while having an actual owner will generate $50,000 over 15 or 20 years from each property… 10 properties = $500,000 and so on.
The stopping and reversing the tide of flight, negligent and crime (through providing secure areas) will result in other people willingly purchasing homes to renovate without so many incentives, but, as shown, it might be in the best interest of the city to continue to provide incentives until the city doesn’t own any more properties.
By focusing on specific blocks, streets and areas, new cores of revitalized healthy urban districts can be reestablished, changing the perception of the city for those who are considering it as a possibility, and, pushing away the tide of decay.
It is clear that what was considered acceptable in urban design and planning in the past has completely failed Newburgh. While some will insist it is the result of lost manufacturing jobs or the consequences of urban renewal which tore down existing structures in ‘the hope’ of encouraging investment, the truth is the manufacturers left (or were not reoccupied) partly because of the decay that got ahold of the city. The city’s inability to keep up maintenance exasperated by increase loss of property tax, assuming the approach by city planners of a century or more before understood all the aspects of a ‘good city’, like insisting on brick paved ‘super wide streets’, no front yards, and, contemporary individuals believing that ‘all should be preserved no matter what’ has left this city in a hole so deep that it will forever struggle to climb out of. Therefore, without a more efficient and priority based approach, the ‘leaks in the system that continue to drain the city’s funds’ will forever place a burden on the city that will ensure its eventual and complete demise. This must stop, if for any purpose than to preserve those buildings that are historically significant. The glaring problems must be addressed and must be addressed at any cost, to a point where revenue can be regenerated in a positive direction.
If there is a city in the United States that has the potential to offer so much already, it is Newburgh, NY. The land, views, river, housing stock, general intimate urban plan, historical monuments all are assets to this particular city, but until the critical negative planning issues are dealt with, Newburgh will continue to flounder.
For those interested in purchasing a property in Newburgh, NY with the intention of renovation, this is the real place to start: The city owns many properties and the prices are very cheap: http://www.cityofnewburgh-ny.gov/planning-development/pages/buying-property-from-the-city-of-newburgh
And here are the property listings with price, address and a photo: http://www.cityofnewburgh-ny.gov/sites/newburghny/files/pages/city_owned_available_june_2017.pdf
The above lists only a fraction of what the city owns. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the price, as they do say prices may change.
Give SimpleTwig Architecture.llc a call when you’re ready to proceed. We know exactly what needs to get done and in what order, to ensure your investment is protected. In fact, work can start the day after your purchase, if you know what needs to be done and who to call.