Monday, August 29, 2011

Urban Neighborhood Issue: Declining Buildings and Infrastructure

The quality of the built environment is fundamental to the health of the Urban Neighborhoods. The existing building stock, both residential and nonresidential, continues to age. This stock could be used to meet some of the demand for future housing and commercial development, however, deteriorated/abandoned buildings and building code compliance problems can make these structures hard to rehabilitate. In the past, Urban Renewal demolished entire neighborhoods due to blight or for city-initiated development projects including new highway construction, resulting in the destruction or isolation of entire neighborhoods. These past examples, fear of change, and a perception that change will bring negative consequences to a community can pose a challenge for future redevelopment.

Many Urban Neighborhood areas have maintained or enhanced their original housing stock through a number of public revitalization strategies such as the Hope VI initiative or through private efforts. However, other older neighborhoods have experienced worsening housing conditions with neglect of property maintenance, disinvestment and/or crime issues. The City uses code enforcement to require property owners to improve their properties, but also provides financial assistance programs to help eligible property owners rehabilitate their homes. There are a number of programs for housing rehabilitation in Winston-Salem, and many are focused in the Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area. These include the Emergency Repair Programs, the Purchase/Tandem Loan Program, the Lead Safe Program and the Section 3 Construction Training Program. Operation Impact is a comprehensive code enforcement program aimed at entire neighborhoods that has been recently revised in response to citizen input.

The decline in some neighborhoods is not just reflected by changes in housing conditions, but also by issues with public infrastructure in neighborhoods. In some areas, sidewalks are in poor condition or lacking altogether. In many busy areas, pedestrian crossings are not provided. This lack of pedestrian connectivity and safety features can create problems for people trying to reach services and retail uses, especially for those people without personal vehicles. Many of our older parks also have aging and outdated infrastructure, resulting in disuse and in some cases, crime problems.

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