On the eve of the OpenHouse launch, I'd like to put out there something I've been thinking about for a while. It might be an overly optimistic idea, but I don't see that as a bad thing.
No Vacancy Poughkeepsie
An experiment in temporary urbanism.
What does Middle Main have?
What does Middle Main lack?
- Proportionally little demand (or perceived demand) for services or programs that would draw the capital in.
What can be done?
- Fill the space with programs generated by the people with ideas, attract people, create attention and liveliness,
thus attracting capital and strengthening the community as a whole.
No Vacancy is a project proposal (in-the-works) for dynamic temporary use of
our space resources:
- Create a coalition of property owners who have persistently vacant properties (particularly storefronts) in the Main
- Create a coalition of people with ideas & drive, but little or no capital.
- Ask the property owners to take the properties off the market for six months to a year. The longer the better. (Theoretically, this isn’t asking too much, given that the property is
persistently vacant anyway.)
- Insert a program into the space for that time.
What will No Vacancy be?
- Asset-Based Community Development. Our biggest asset is diverse, interesting people with enthusiasm for what they like.
- Thinking outside the box in terms of economic development.
- Collective Action (but in a fun way, seriously)
What won’t No Vacancy be?
- A top-down, imposed effort.
- Blindly throwing money at a problem.
- Traditional economic development that either neglects, sterilizes, or destroys our assets.
So what about these programs? What’s
really happening in these buildings?
- Well, anything really. The key is getting people out there, both Middle Main residents and others. Each site should be a business incubator, a community
amenity, or both. Programs
should attract diverse so that different people are populating the area
throughout the day.
- Ideas (drawn up by a white middle class college dude with pretty apparent tastes, so this is very lopsided):
oSmall movie house
(Marist’s Fashion Inc.?)
(Learn Spanish, English, etc.)
oA give-away store
oGame room (pool,
- If these all sound like gentrification buzzwords, well, my bad.
That’s where the diversity of stakeholders needs to come in and
make this the true community-based that it must be.
Why all these coalitions? Why not start with one building + one program and see
- One building + one program isn’t bad, per se. But a critical mass of
must be achieved for demand to be generated.
Why six months to a year?
- For this to work, we must give time for the community flourish under the conditions we’ve created. Six months is an assumed minimum
amount of time for this to happen.
A year is the assumed upper limit that property owners would be
willing to commit a property.
This is by no means a new concept in America, and one that can do wonders for our
city. Check out some precedents for temporary use initiatives:
The list goes on.
Why will No Vacancy work?
- Because it this is the best option on the table right now. We can sit
and wait for the free market to take care of it, wait until the government
either bulldozes or sterilizes the whole area, or catalyze the process we
have already begun.
- There is virtually no downside to the project.
For property owners, they must think of the opportunity cost of removing
the property from the market for a year.
For many Middle Main property owners, though, I assume the real
opportunity cost would be minimal.
For the community, the worst that could happen is growing to enjoy an
amenity that is then lost at the end of the year. This is still a positive, though, since it is precisely this
demand that needs to be shown to, and felt by, the capital-bearing individuals
Do something. Anything.