Lofts Attract Urban Renewal

  • Lofts are no longer just structures with large windows and exposed brick. Lofts are quickly becoming a symbol of the lifestyle of the young, urban professional. (Photo by Lester Graham)

In cities across the nation, old warehouses, factories and other buildings are being turned into brand new luxury loft apartments, and for many urban areas, those apartments are a big part of trying to get people to move back to cities from the suburbs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has this report:

Transcript

In cities across the nation, old warehouses, factories and other buildings are being turned into brand new luxury loft apartments. And for many urban areas, those apartments are a big part of trying get people to move back to cities from the suburbs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has that story:


Abby Cook is taking a tour of the Union Square Condos.


“…finished the dining area, old basketball hoops and signs throughout the building, so…”


The condos are being built in what used to be a high school, and when they’re finished, the apartments will have a lot of the things that lofts are known for. They’ll have high ceilings, hardwood floors, big windows and exposed brick.


“It’s a great use of the building, it’s a neat idea and just the uniqueness, I think of it.”


Cook is excited about the idea of moving to downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. She lives in the suburbs now.


“Location is key, I think. Being that I am a young person, and I go out a lot, being close to downtown, just being close and the convenience is huge, just huge.”


Developers all over are building these kinds of lofts in empty city centers. That’s because lofts are thought to attract a group that’s become kind of a holy grail to urban planners: young, educated, professionals like Abby Cook. They’re often willing to live in neighborhoods that other affluent people shun, and it seems, they love lofts. Julie Hale Smith is with Michigan’s housing development authority.


“Our main target goal was to increase population in our urban centers. When we looked around at other cities in the country that we were emulating, we noted that one of their linchpins of revitalization was the redevelopment of historic buildings or the kind of faux-lofting of new, or newer buildings to provide that kind of lifestyle, that kind of urbanist lifestyle for folks that chose to live in those kinds of dwellings.”


You hear the word “lifestyle” a lot when you talk about lofts. In fact, they’ve become almost synonymous with a certain lifestyle, and not just in the minds of developers and urban planners.


FLAHERTY: “When you think of loft apartments, what words do you think of?”


PERSON 1: “Urban living.”


PERSON 2: “Maybe urban contemporary types, younger…”


PERSON 3: “Young, urban, hip.”


PERSON 4: “Maybe en vogue for city living, kind of stylish…”

But what is it about lofts? Doug Kelbaugh’s the dean of architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan.


“Lofts have a certain cache… they started in London and New York, where older manufacturing buildings or warehouses, in the case of London, were converted by urban pioneers, often artists, into large, open spaces, typically without separate rooms, and now it’s become sort of a lifestyle issue.”


But luxury lofts like Union Square are a far cry from the gritty artists’ lofts of 1970’s New York. They often have amenities like pools, gyms and game rooms.


“What will happen, is you’ll come up this stairway – there’ll be a landing here – and then there’ll be a second stairway that goes up through the roof to your private rooftop deck…”


Developers often like to call any apartment with big windows and exposed brick a “loft.” University of Illinois Geographer, David Wilson, says it’s all a matter of marketing, that developers aren’t just selling an apartment, they’re selling an identity.


“Developers and builders look at them and they see certain physical attributes: high ceilings, large, expansive windows, and so forth, and they seize upon the idea of marketing these physical attributes. And the marketing process hooks up to the notion of, ‘Let’s play to the identity of these people. Let’s make them appealing, let’s make them attractive.'”


So when people see apartments that look like lofts, they don’t think about washing those big windows, they think of having the hip, urban lifestyle that the windows imply. Take Hannah Thurston. She’s a 23-year-old student. She and her husband are putting down a deposit on one of the Union Square apartments.


“I’m hoping that the other people moving in will be great neighbors. Obviously, we’ll have a lot in common being young professionals, obviously there are a lot of nice perks.”


But whatever developers’ motivations, and whatever people might think of them, lofts are succeeding at one thing: they’re bringing at least some new people many of the nation’s abandoned city centers.


For the GLRC, I’m Nora Flaherty.

Related Links

Rust Belt City Desires High Tech Future

  • Wheels are turning both in young minds and innovative transportation. Both could help revive the Rust Belt. (Photo by Max Eggeling)

The loss of traditional manufacturing jobs has hit Great Lakes states hard in recent years. But some business owners believe they are on the cusp of creating a new type of manufacturing base. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant spent some time in one community that’s discussing how new businesses can provide a foundation for the future:

Transcript

The loss of traditional manufacturing jobs has hit Great Lakes states hard in recent
years. But some business owners believe they are on the cusp of creating a new type of
manufacturing base. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant spent some time in
one community that’s discussing how new businesses can provide a foundation for the
future:


Not long ago, there were lots of good-paying factory jobs in northeast Ohio. But the state
has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs in the past four years. Some business people and
academics are trying to shape a new economy for the region. Their efforts could be
symbolized by a little bird…


“I need a Sparrow, I need it…”


A sparrow is an electrically charged three-wheel motorcycle that’s fully covered in steel.
It looks like a tear drop… or maybe a gym shoe. David Ackerman isn’t sure if he’d pick
one in bright orange…


“…but look, there it goes, look at it go! Is that the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen? I
love it! It’s like something out of “sleeper.” But it’s very sleek and cool and futuristic…
Does it really go 70? Yeah, it goes 70….”


While Ohio and other Midwestern states might have a tough time competing globally in
the steel market, some economists believe innovative transportation is one way Ohio
could build a foundation for a new economy. The state has put millions of dollars into
fuel cell research, Honda is building hybrid cars in central Ohio, and newer companies
are working to make auto engines cleaner and more efficient.


Some of those business owners gathered with people from the community to discuss how
transportation technology could be part of the region’s future. Bob Chalfant of a
company called Comsense spoke on the panel. He says the technology they’re
developing could have a huge impact…


“…the benefits to Cleveland are jobs. We figure the total market for pressure sensors for
combustion applications is about 2.2 billion dollars.”


Chalfant’s company expects to create 2,000 jobs in Cleveland. But if businesses like
Comsense are going to girder the area’s new economy, they’re going to need educated
employees for their high tech manufacturing jobs. The problem is, many young educated
folks are leaving the Midwest.


Meredith Matthews is a public school teacher in inner city Cleveland. She says they’re
trying to train students for these kinds of jobs, but they need direction from these new
companies…


“I teach in the third world known as the Cleveland Public Schools. I’m introducing
myself, so that if anybody needs kids, we got ’em. If you want to stop by and talk to me,
I’ll show you how to get kids, I’ll show you how to get in the door.”


Local universities and community colleges already have some research and training in
fuel cell technology. But mechanic Phil Lane looks at Cleveland’s poverty rate, the
highest among all big cities in the nation, and wants these companies to start training kids
even younger…


“We need to grab kids in the second and third grade, particularly in the very bad
neighborhoods, before the neighborhood can get to the kid. That’s what we really need to
do.”


Lane says training poor children early would provide a real foundation for a new
economy in Cleveland. Many communities that have lost their job base are starting
similar conversations and searching for ways to fit in to the global marketplace.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links