A recent article in the Washington Post,written by Wall Street investment fund manager Michael G. Messner, suggests that the way out of the current housing market slump is not to build more properties, but rather tear down existing ones – in order to create more green spaces. He references Frederick Law Olmsted’s study of rising property values surrounding his Central Park, and stresses that “Parks and managed green space are vital pieces of urban infrastructure that not only improve the quality of life for millions of people but also drive economic growth.”
I couldn’t agree more, but what really caught my eye in the article was the mention of Georgia Tech’s Redfields to Greenfields project, where, as Messner puts it, ” Some of the abandoned or underutilized property would be acquired by a parks agency or by public-private partnerships, which would then begin demolition, park design and construction, putting people to work immediately. More jobs would come as the improved areas attracted development.” Not to mention removing these “toxic assets” of which the banks hold mortgages.
The mission of Redfields to Greenfields is simple:
Acquire financially distressed properties (real estate “in the red”)
Convert them into public parks and adjacent land “banked” for future sustainable development
Georgia Tech is planning on implementing this project in 12 major cities. Messner adds that this “would not be the first time that property has been bulldozed for economic gain. The railroads, which had many miles of underused track to maintain, pulled up 55 percent of their tracks in the past 60 years to increase profitability, enabling the creation of 19,000 linear miles of “rails-to-trails” parks. Pittsburgh, realizing that the steel industry was never coming back, tore down riverfront steel mills and replaced them with an attractive mix of parks and office space. In Michigan, Flint and Detroit are finding ways to “bank” land as open space.”
I love this idea. If a building is not historically important to the community, or if it’s beyond the point of repair, why not reclaim the space as public park land? Considering Thompson Park is also an Olmsted-designed space, I hope that Watertown continues to extend its green spaces – especially if it means tearing down old mills that haven’t been in use for decades to extend Riverwalk park. I saw a similar revitalization first-hand in the old mill-town of Lewiston, Maine. Where once the poverty rate was 50%, there is now a continuous local movement to become “New England’s First Rural Empowerment Zone.” And take it from me, if Lewiston can come around from the undesirable community it once was, then anywhere can.
Photo from Redfields to Greenfields