From Archaic to Revolutionized: How Antiquated Commercial Space Can Be a Community Boon

As cities continue to expand, many beginning to burst at the seams, the inevitable question arises: where do we house people? A logical, important question to ask. But perhaps other questions need to be considered as well: where will people work, and what is the city doing to spur economic growth?

“It is a public good to have diverse job types in our communities,” says Ilana Preuss, Founder of Recast City. Formerly Vice President at Smart Growth America, Recast City is Preuss’s newest project, with the goal of bringing small-scale manufacturers back to the city.

“Cities and real-estate developers need to keep affordable space for small-scale manufacturers,” she explains. As space becomes limited in a city, the initial concern that usually arises first is how to provide housing for people at a reasonable cost. Cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC, are all facing this crisis right now. Providing job opportunities for people of all backgrounds, education levels, and experiences is equally as important, though, and often overlooked. Retaining jobs in cities will allow them to flourish – and inevitably raise the average income as well.

This concept, however, does not solve the lack of space problem. Cities must think creatively and a bit outside the metaphorical and physical box. Rather than building sparkling, new four-wall buildings, how can what already exists be repurposed? Opening up the job market to creative new industries means thinking about office space – or play space – from a different lens.

Just in the DC metro area, there are several examples of archaic commercial and industrial parks that are being repurposed for the community in a variety of ways – and thus sparking vibrant economic growth as well. In Alexandria, a Sport Rock Climbing Center, Martial Arts Academy, Dance studio, Bikram Yoga, and a theater company have taken over an outdated commercial center, repurposing existing space into an athletic haven. In Ivy City, DC, old warehouse spaces are being converted to a gym, restaurants, and a rock-climbing gym-cum coffee shop-cum beer garden. Despite both the Alexandria commercial space and the Ivy City warehouse not being immediately adjacent to a metro, both are still usable buildings – already in existence – that can be used for new purposes and bring diverse jobs to their communities.

Recast City works to encourage diversity in a new way: getting back to the roots of the original, intended use for warehouse space – small-scale manufacturers. These “makers spaces” invite creativity to a city by giving artisans affordable space for micro-retail businesses. “These businesses help cities retain more diverse job types and bring small business energy to neighborhood development.”

Repurposing existing space not only helps neighborhoods to flourish, but also helps them to develop distinct identities, thus attracting entrepreneurs and small business owners with like-minded values and goals. The burgeoning economic growth is limitless. And this, we can say confidently, is a cyclical trend worth repeating.

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