Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The New Urban Neighborhood: Brownfield of Dreams?

A house in the country will always have its appeal. But lately more homebuyers are preferring the city, for reasons ranging from the sheer excitement of the surroundings, to the rescue of impoverished areas and the preservation of shrinking green space.
One prime area of urban housing growth is the type of site known as "brownfields." These are often-abandoned commercial and industrial spaces that have outlived their original uses but, with the right environmental cleanup, can be converted to housing or even entire neighborhoods. Older suburban homes and large new developments have lost none of their popularity, but for the right buyer the urban option is one worth exploring.
Clearly, urban living is not for everyone – it usually attracts single professionals and couples without children. But the lifestyle has aspects that would appeal to anyone. Two major attractions are cutting down on a long daily commute to city employment, and taking advantage of the area's cultural scene.
Convenience like this coincides with the environmental interests of both city and suburban officials: having a population within a few public transit stops or even in walking distance of work and recreation reduces automotive pollution and traffic hazards. And placing new housing in established urban buildings can slow suburban sprawl, with one study showing that, given factors such as pre-existing architecture and infrastructure, every hectare (about two and a half acres) of brownfields that is redeveloped spares 4.5 hectares of green space. Many of today's homeowners are happy to be part of such preservation, as they enjoy the more personal oasis of abundant room and spectacular views that the modern loft offers.
Of course, the same residents are concerned about the city environment itself. Brownfields can often have unresolved health and safety issues from their former uses. But new grants and other incentives to find and mitigate these problems are promising to accelerate the process of urban revival and put sellers', buyers' and lenders' minds at rest.
Even now, these spaces have proven so popular that developers are applying the term "loft" to structures they have only just built, and buyers are flocking to them. The rush is by no means unanimous - the U.S Census has indicated that three homes are still built in the suburbs for every one built in the cities. But the urban frontier is holding more appeal every day.