U.S. CitiesCity-Data Forum Index
Go Back   City-Data Forum > General Forums > Urban Planning
 [Register]
Please register to participate in our discussions with 2 million other members - it's free and quick! Some forums can only be seen by registered members. After you create your account, you'll be able to customize options and access all our 15,000 new posts/day with fewer ads.
View detailed profile (Advanced) or search
site with Google Custom Search

Search Forums  (Advanced)
Reply Start New Thread
 
Old 04-22-2013, 09:14 AM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
12,438 posts, read 11,941,006 times
Reputation: 10542

Advertisements

Here in Pittsburgh, there are a fair amount of alleys which, aside from the more common driveways and garages, actually have a large number of houses in them. The actual fate of these alley houses has varied depending upon the neighborhood. In gentrifying areas of the city, these houses are still in high usage. They're unlikely to be heavily gentrified, because they start from such modest beginnings (either simple frame houses which have long since turned to siding, or brick rowhouses which have long since lost most of their character), but they end up becoming student rentals, or in some cases homeowner-occupied by single people looking for a more affordable option in a walkable neighborhood. The issue is different, however, in the ghettos of the city, where they often become abandoned en-masse, or otherwise fall into disrepair.

I was recently criticized online for arguing that in blighted neighborhoods, since all houses can't be saved, it's better to demolish alley houses and put resources into saving houses on the main streets. My arguments were.

1. Alley houses are almost always less desirable, smaller, and less attractive than the houses on main streets. In terms of architectural merit and future desirability, it makes more sense to save as many of the grander structures as possible.
2. Demolishing an alley house behind a streetside house means you can give the parcel to the street-fronting property. This allows for a rear driveway or garage, which will improve the value of the streetside home.
3. Most importantly, since alleys shouldn't be visible from the main street (unless someone has already demolished front-side properties), you could eliminate a large amount of alley housing without changing the "urban feel" of a neighborhood. It doesn't make the neighborhood into a suburb - it just recognizes demand will never be as high in a more orderly fashion.

I can see why these arguments could be controversial, as they pretty much are "urban renewal light." But what do people think?
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message

 
Old 04-22-2013, 10:53 AM
 
Location: Youngstown, Oh.
4,896 posts, read 7,662,803 times
Reputation: 4508
"Thinning out" as you describe it, sounds like a win-win to me. The urban feel of the main street is preserved, and the lots these houses sit on gain more room for recreation or parking, for those who feel the need for that kind of thing, and might choose to move to the suburbs otherwise.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 04-22-2013, 12:04 PM
 
Location: North Baltimore ----> Seattle
6,473 posts, read 11,108,470 times
Reputation: 3117
Here, there are plenty of desirable alley streets in the most desirable dense areas. Here's one: broadway baltimore - Google Maps These homes sell for less than those on the main block, probably, but above median for the city. In a city with tons of vacancy and low housing costs, the fact that people still wish to live in these alleys tells me that the alley houses here represent a cheaper opportunity to live in a strong neighborhood ... instead of spending the same or less and living in a bigger house in one that it is transitional.

Of course there are many more blocks like the Pittsburgh example ... So the question is should they remain in their current state while the rest of the block awaits gentrification, or should they be razed in an effort to speed up said gentrification?

I'm unsure of the answer. Like many things in urban planning ... it might be on a case by case basis.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 04-22-2013, 01:39 PM
 
Location: Vallejo
14,072 posts, read 16,098,416 times
Reputation: 12647
Quote:
Originally Posted by HandsUpThumbsDown View Post
Here, there are plenty of desirable alley streets in the most desirable dense areas. Here's one: broadway baltimore - Google Maps These homes sell for less than those on the main block, probably, but above median for the city. In a city with tons of vacancy and low housing costs, the fact that people still wish to live in these alleys tells me that the alley houses here represent a cheaper opportunity to live in a strong neighborhood ... instead of spending the same or less and living in a bigger house in one that it is transitional.

Of course there are many more blocks like the Pittsburgh example ... So the question is should they remain in their current state while the rest of the block awaits gentrification, or should they be razed in an effort to speed up said gentrification?

I'm unsure of the answer. Like many things in urban planning ... it might be on a case by case basis.
Well, I think needlessly tearing down houses where there is demand is stupid... but I don't think that's what was being suggested.

Moreover, if you look at someplace in Baltimore where there isn't demand, that does seem to be what they are doing.
https://maps.google.com/maps?q=broad...,25.3,,0,-1.53

Many more of the houses on the alley streets have been torn down there than on the main streets. Only so much you can do, of course. Even removing all the alley housing (and the owners, if vacant but not abandoned might object to that), I think you'd still have more supply than demand. As long as the buildings are structurally sound, it's pretty cheap to slap a coat of stucco on the buildings. So even on the main streets, a good number of the abandoned houses have new stucco facades up and are just as likely to be abandoned as the decaying ones they rub shoulders with. Maybe more... I definitely fall into the stucco looks tacky camp.

You end up in the odd situation where it's actually the abandoned buildings that are most likely to have anything of retained architectural value. The inhabited buildings, eventually you've got to deal with the leaky facade and the cheapest thing to do is nail up some chickenwire and stucco it.
https://maps.google.com/maps?q=broad...20.13,,0,-3.67
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 04-22-2013, 02:08 PM
 
Location: North Baltimore ----> Seattle
6,473 posts, read 11,108,470 times
Reputation: 3117
Good points, all.

I don't know about the block that I posted, but many of the inhabitable alley streets did not have any demand before recently. As gentrification plows north on the east side, some of these abandoned alley blocks will face that decision - do we wait, or do we demolish?
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 04-22-2013, 03:51 PM
Status: "Summer!" (set 23 days ago)
 
Location: Foot of the Rockies
87,016 posts, read 102,649,686 times
Reputation: 33082
Pittsburgh, the OP's city, has less than 1/2 the population it had at its peak. There is a lot of abandoned housing there. I don't know if it's mostly "alley houses".
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 04-22-2013, 05:41 PM
 
Location: North Baltimore ----> Seattle
6,473 posts, read 11,108,470 times
Reputation: 3117
Alley houses would be the minority anywhere. Almost universally they were afterthoughts built in times of heavy demand.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 04-22-2013, 07:43 PM
 
Location: Tucson for awhile longer
8,872 posts, read 13,562,583 times
Reputation: 29033
I lived in Pittsburgh for many years (South Side, Shadyside, and Squirrel Hill) and I can see the value of what eschaton suggests in some areas, Lawrenceville, Garfield, and East Liberty being possibilities. Maybe even Highland Park. Places where there are dumps coexisting with nicer properties. But the question is, who would pay for it?

Dumpy houses that are still inhabited are owned by someone. No matter how little a rental is reaping, the house is probably already paid for (most times it's in a family for generations) and why would an owner would pay to have his however-modest cash cow demolished? Even if the house is abandoned it's an issue. The owner of the nicer homes are unlikely to buy up the dumps and demolish them just to add value to their properties.

I bought and rehabbed a house on Pittsburgh's South Side that I lived in for more than a decade. Next door was a small house (the size of a two-car garage with a loft). It was very ugly and had virtually no yard, but it was almost always rented. Once I called the cops on a domestic battle that was going on within. They hauled someone off to jail and the cop who remained chatted with me for awhile. I asked about the condition of the interior (I never knew the stream of renters, so I was never inside). He said it was in terrible disrepair. He described what he thought was structural damage due to water leaks. He advised me to call the city and complain about it (not his job, he said).

I did and here's what happened. They asked me to call them back the next time the house was empty, they didn't want to deal with "someone's home." The domestic battlers left shortly, so I called again. They finally sent someone from the city to enter the house and examine it. That person immediately had the gas and electric shut off. They tried to find and contact the owner to tell them the house had been tagged as a nuisance and repairs were needed. I sold my house a little over a year later, in large part because the house still sat there, empty, utility-less, and probably an attraction for rodents, if not a homeless person. If the city didn't have enough money or manpower to hunt down the owner, where were they going to get the money to demolish the house?

I can see the OP's scenario taking place only in situations where there has been a move for urban renewal and a city has money to buy up large groups of houses, demolishing the useless and re-selling the better ones to the public at a cut rate. It certainly beats wholesale demolition of blighted properties like is being done in Detroit. But in Detroit's case, they aren't even "renewing" are they? They're just creating empty acreage that they hope will be attractive to a buyer ... someday.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 04-23-2013, 07:00 AM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
12,438 posts, read 11,941,006 times
Reputation: 10542
Quote:
Originally Posted by HandsUpThumbsDown View Post
Here, there are plenty of desirable alley streets in the most desirable dense areas. Here's one: broadway baltimore - Google Maps These homes sell for less than those on the main block, probably, but above median for the city. In a city with tons of vacancy and low housing costs, the fact that people still wish to live in these alleys tells me that the alley houses here represent a cheaper opportunity to live in a strong neighborhood ... instead of spending the same or less and living in a bigger house in one that it is transitional.
There are plenty of those in Pittsburgh, but the gentrification of many of these isn't that old, and the Google Maps pictures from Pittsburgh are from 2007. So I can't find any gentrified alleys on street view. This is probably the closest, and some people punked the Google Car, which is kinda amusing, if you go down a bit further.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Katiana View Post
Pittsburgh, the OP's city, has less than 1/2 the population it had at its peak. There is a lot of abandoned housing there. I don't know if it's mostly "alley houses".
Most of Pittsburgh's population decline has been due to declining family size, not decline in households. At this point, only 110,000 more people would result in a city as full as it was in 1950 - and many blighted parts of the city already had half or more of their units demolished.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jukesgrrl View Post
I lived in Pittsburgh for many years (South Side, Shadyside, and Squirrel Hill) and I can see the value of what eschaton suggests in some areas, Lawrenceville, Garfield, and East Liberty being possibilities. Maybe even Highland Park. Places where there are dumps coexisting with nicer properties.
You been gone for awhile. While most of the alley housing in Lawrenceville is still dumpy, a lot of it has been fixed up and is renting for $1,000 per month now, which boggles my mind. I paid less than half of that to rent bigger places in Bloomfield back in 2007.

I was thinking more about places like Homewood, which aren't going to be getting better for decades yet.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jukesgrrl View Post
Dumpy houses that are still inhabited are owned by someone. No matter how little a rental is reaping, the house is probably already paid for (most times it's in a family for generations) and why would an owner would pay to have his however-modest cash cow demolished? Even if the house is abandoned it's an issue. The owner of the nicer homes are unlikely to buy up the dumps and demolish them just to add value to their properties.
Pittsburgh actually has a system where if you have a vacant lot behind or next to your residence, you can claim the land pretty easily. That said, the city (or someone else) has to demolish the property first.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jukesgrrl View Post
I bought and rehabbed a house on Pittsburgh's South Side that I lived in for more than a decade. Next door was a small house (the size of a two-car garage with a loft). It was very ugly and had virtually no yard, but it was almost always rented. Once I called the cops on a domestic battle that was going on within. They hauled someone off to jail and the cop who remained chatted with me for awhile. I asked about the condition of the interior (I never knew the stream of renters, so I was never inside). He said it was in terrible disrepair. He described what he thought was structural damage due to water leaks. He advised me to call the city and complain about it (not his job, he said).

I did and here's what happened. They asked me to call them back the next time the house was empty, they didn't want to deal with "someone's home." The domestic battlers left shortly, so I called again. They finally sent someone from the city to enter the house and examine it. That person immediately had the gas and electric shut off. They tried to find and contact the owner to tell them the house had been tagged as a nuisance and repairs were needed. I sold my house a little over a year later, in large part because the house still sat there, empty, utility-less, and probably an attraction for rodents, if not a homeless person. If the city didn't have enough money or manpower to hunt down the owner, where were they going to get the money to demolish the house?
Your scenario is similar to one we have had with a "neighbor" two houses down. Due to a 19th century numbering error, the number of our house and our neighbor repeats on the next block - meaning we have identical addresses to non-adjacent houses. It's not a big deal for our neighbor, but the other house (which shares our address) is an essentially abandoned dump. Apparently an old man used to live there, and when he went into a home, his family (who lives hours away in the sticks), took over the house. They only do the minimum maintenance once per year to ensure the house doesn't fall in. But because we share an address, we've had our own utilities turned off at various times because the other house doesn't pay their gas/electric/water. I've considered reporting the house for demolition, but it's the end of a row (if an ugly one) which has no internal brick walls, so I'm basically condemning all the other houses if the end gets knocked down.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 04-23-2013, 07:19 AM
 
Location: North Baltimore ----> Seattle
6,473 posts, read 11,108,470 times
Reputation: 3117
Quote:
Originally Posted by eschaton View Post
There are plenty of those in Pittsburgh, but the gentrification of many of these isn't that old, and the Google Maps pictures from Pittsburgh are from 2007. So I can't find any gentrified alleys on street view. This is probably the closest, and some people punked the Google Car, which is kinda amusing, if you go down a bit further.

.
Heh that is an amusing scene! Funny also that Gentry Street is nearby.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Please register to post and access all features of our very popular forum. It is free and quick. Over $68,000 in prizes has already been given out to active posters on our forum. Additional giveaways are planned.

Detailed information about all U.S. cities, counties, and zip codes on our site: City-data.com.


Reply
Please update this thread with any new information or opinions. This open thread is still read by thousands of people, so we encourage all additional points of view.

Quick Reply
Message:

Over $104,000 in prizes was already given out to active posters on our forum and additional giveaways are planned!

Go Back   City-Data Forum > General Forums > Urban Planning
Follow City-Data.com founder on our Forum or

All times are GMT -6.

2005-2019, Advameg, Inc. · Please obey Forum Rules · Terms of Use and Privacy Policy · Bug Bounty

City-Data.com - Archive 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35 - Top