Urban Placemaking

Small-scale manufacturers are helping move hard-to-sell retail space, and they’re bringing jobs back 

October 4, 2018
Baking company at work_Pixabay_CC0

When you think of “placemaking,” master planned communities with big swaths of vacant land may come to mind, land primed to become clusters of new homes for first-time homebuyers, move-up buyers, and active adults, bringing with them the shopping malls and other light-commercial structures needed to serve them. But these days, placemaking is also occurring in well-established urban areas, only in reverse. 

In Nashville, Tenn., for example, the underutilized area known as Wedgewood Houston is now home to a wide variety of commercial enterprises, including a dozen art galleries, co-working spaces, retailers, a distillery, and a repurposed industrial space housing more than two dozen businesses, and new residential construction is following. WeHo, as it’s called by residents, is a rapidly revitalizing neighborhood at the heart of Nashville’s urban Renaissance, and it’s now also the site of several new low-rise multifamily buildings that are quickly filling with owners and renters. This month in “Low-Rise Finds Its Place,” contributor Stacey Freed looks at several such projects in four U.S. cities. 

Why are people so eager to live in this type of environment? “Small-scale manufacturers are great neighbors,” says Ilana Preuss, founder of Recast City, a consulting firm that works with real estate developers and civic leaders to assist in the return of small-scale manufacturing to cities. “They’re clean, quiet, and are doing something fascinating; they become a neighborhood draw. They’re helping move hard-to-sell retail space, and they’re bringing jobs back.” 

These newly viable areas are also relatively affordable. A few years ago, new homes in Wedgewood Houston were being sold in the mid- to upper-$200,000s; $100,000 to $150,000 less than comparables in more established neighborhoods. Prices have since increased, but are still attractive compared with other nearby areas. 

Preuss has seen similar successes in other cities, as well. Recast City has worked with the cities of Cincinnati, Lowell, Mass., and Fremont, Calif., among others, to integrate small-scale manufacturing into their neighborhoods, which has also led to the building of more housing. Preuss is careful to point out that the creation of middle-income job opportunities is her goal. How does this benefit builders? The upside for them is that “this kind of investment increases the value of their properties,” she says. “The more the community has a neighborhood center and is home to local businesses,” she adds, “the more that people will gravitate to that neighborhood. That’s the bottom-line answer.”

editorial director

Denise Dersin, editorial director of Professional Builder, Custom Builder, PRODUCTS, NKBA Innovation+Inspiration, and co-editor of Multifamily Design+Construction, has been in publishing as an editor and writer for 30 years and has worked in the housing industry for much of that time.