Win-Win-Win

The scaffolding is off at Fultonhaus, 119 Fulton Street at Dutch Street in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District. This is an example of what might be called small-scale upfill development, and it embodies many principles that Jane Jacobs described as being beneficial for a city neighborhood.

Here the developer added six stories to an 87-year-old building, nearly doubling it size while converting the lower floors from obsolete commercial space into condominium apartments. The history of the building itself shows the versatility of a simple lowrise structure, part of a row of buildings that edge right up to the streetwall. According to the Department of Buildings BIS website, it was built as a factory and warehouse in 1919 and converted into retail showrooms in 1967. Now it is being transformed again, into residences. The benefits, or “wins” from this latest conversion are many.

Win 1: This building helps densify an already dense transit core of the city, encouraging people to travel via the nearby subway rather than sprawling outward into auto-dependent suburbs. There will be 19 apartments in this building. That represents an entire cul-de-sac’s worth of farmland or forest saved from the bulldozer!

Win 2: This building will bring more residents to a business district after hours, giving it more of a 24-hour daily lifecycle, which subtly enhances safety to the neighborhood and rewards local business owners for locating downtown. As important as these two wins are, they stem from any form of downtown residential development. What makes this building particularly special is its relative small scale.

Win 3: The project exemplifies Jacobs’ concept of “gradual money.” I have no idea how much money the conversion of and addition to this building cost. It might have been quite a lot. But it is not as much as if they tore down a number of similar-sized buildings, consolidated the lots and built a much bigger building. Jacobs wrote of the need to supply neighborhoods with a continual supply of investment, a trickle of money as opposed to an occasional bucket-load of “cataclysmic money” that often resulted in the disastrous tearing down of many buildings to put up one, as was done in the “urban renewal” years of public housing projects. The result of small-scale rehabilitation and construction is what Jacobs termed a healthy city neighborhood, an “ever-normal granary” that is forever rejuvenating itself:

All city building that retains staying power after its novelty has gone, and that preserves the freedom of the streets and upholds citizens’ self-management, requires that its locality be able to adapt, keep up to date, keep interesting, keep convenient, and this in turn requires a myriad of gradual, constant, close-grained changes.

Win 4: Historic architecture preserved. Even without consolidating lots, the developer here could have torn down the existing building and built a new all-glass one with economies of scale. But here, he chose to retain the old building, with its beautiful masonry architecture, which reinforces the historic urban fabric rather than obliterating it.

It is great to see such positive development taking place in the heart of the city.

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One Response to Win-Win-Win

  1. Slavito says:

    Hey,

    I completely agree. To be honest, I never had the chance to read Jane Jacobs’ book, but the benefits you’re listing are right on – in some ways, this is plain common sense. So strange that developers and people in office are often blinded by the potential returns, never thinking (or not giving enough weight to their thoughts) from a neighborhood perspective.

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