Monday, November 26, 2012

Regenerating Neighborhoods with Cultural Heritage: TEDxDesMoines City 2.0

Jeffrey Morgan, HBI's new Director of Real Estate Development was an invited speaker at TEDxDesMoines, part of TED's "City 2.0". Jeff was one of several experts from many different areas of practice to present their perspectives on the future of Urbanism in October. We are pleased to present a summary of his presentation, "Capitalizing on Cultural Heritage to Regenerate Neighborhoods", and a link to the live presentation on YouTube. 

The regeneration of inner city historic business centers involves more than simply fixing up old buildings. It requires consideration of both the cultural and capital resources needed to successfully regenerate a particular building or commercial center.  

Historically, neighborhood centers were the social centers for a community. The cafes, coffee houses, pubs & streets were the living rooms, kitchens, and playgrounds of the neighborhood. They were also immigrant entry points of a city where new arrivals from other countries integrated into American life yet where they still shared, celebrated, and passed on their ethnic heritage – food, clothing, customs, and traditions. These centers of daily life were where people learned about jobs and the news of the day, and where young people learned about their heritage and how to socialize.

Over the last 30-40 years, cities throughout the US have been rediscovering the value of this relationship between the capital and culture of neighborhood living. The increased redevelopment of downtown business centers and inner city neighborhoods and their business centers has been a driving force behind more and more people living in urban areas. In 2007, one-half of the world’s population became officially urban and one-third of Americans inhabit just 16 large metropolitan areas, which collectively use only a tiny fraction of the country’s land mass.

Along with the rediscovery of urban business centers has been a rediscovery of the economic opportunity of ethnic heritage. Trends in immigration along with the growth of international trade, transnationalism, globalization, and tourism have increased the demand for marketing that incorporates ethnicity and ethnic identity. Real estate developers are capitalizing on this by redeveloping existing ethnic neighborhoods into destination tourist districts and designing new ethnic oriented neighborhood developments.

Trends in ethnic retailing and ethnic entrepreneurialism, along with the magnitude of micro business enterprises coupled with a rediscovery of the heritage of historic neighborhood business centers translates into economic opportunity for redeveloping historic buildings. The preservation of buildings therefore is an economic development tool and a form of applying or reapplying cultural heritage in the regeneration of neighborhoods and their business districts. This is much more than saving a particular building as an artifact or set-piece. It is about celebrating cultural heritage and creating the actual store front spaces needed for local micro businesses.

Many inner city business centers are still blighted with vacant buildings, sites, and storefronts. These are untapped economic opportunities to reinvest in neighborhoods, strengthen local economies and communities, and celebrate our collective American cultural heritage. 

I was honored to share my passion for inner city neighborhood business district regeneration at a TEDx event in my hometown of Des Moines Iowa recently. You can view the talk on YouTube through the following link:

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