Traditional Neighborhood Collapse: History, Topography, and Design in a Small City and Their Implications for Sustainable Housing
The southeast side of the old industrial city of Newark has experienced depopulation, physical deterioration, and unsuccessful low-income housing development disproportionate to that of the rest of the city. A subsidized townhome complex at the southern edge of this area saw a reduction in occupancy over the last decade to close to ten percent, accompanied by decaying units, criminality, and marginal housing behaviors. Historical forces such as the reputation of Newark’s ‘East End’ as a hermetic, rough blue-collar district have compounded the local effects of incomplete urbanization west of the complex between 1884 and 1920, and of the marginal location of this complex next to the vacant canal bed and still-active railroad. Topography exacerbated the resulting edge vacuum by a 30’ downgrade from east Newark’s axis along East Main Street, and the insertion of massive multi-storey apartments into the traditional wood-frame fabric between East Main and the townhomes intensified devaluation and isolation. Weak design—curvilinear streets, dominant parking lots, deep set-backs, unarticulated facades and entryways, edge buildings facing away from access and so on—completed the townhomes’ unsustainable housing pattern. Learning from the collapse of the townhomes and surrounding area, re-densification and exploitation of local building types, streetscapes, and planning geometries emerge as essential design components of a broader local strategy for sustainable housing.
Keywords: Urban Planning, Low-Income Housing, Sustainable Housing Design, Traditional Neighborhood Design, New Urbanism, Architecture
Dr. Karl Sandin
Associate Professor, Department of Art, Denison University