By Sarah Sieloff, Executive Director & Emma Leonard, Program Associate
Here at CCLR, we’re always interested in learning more about how our work to advance land recycling domestically finds its corollary in the international realm. We’re pleased to bring you a few articles about blight, vacancy, and redevelopment in a variety of international contexts, all drawn together by the common thread of aging societies and changing demographics.
In Glasgow, Scotland, the remaining Red Road flats, once the tallest residential structures in Europe, are to be razed later this year after decades of social and infrastructural fall outs. Constructed in the post WWII-era to reduce overcrowding and improve the standard of living for over 5,000 low income residents, the towers will be replaced with housing better suited for the city’s aging population. It will be worth watching how the financing will come together and what kind of mitigation will be necessary during demolition, given the presence of asbestos in the buildings.
In rural Spain the search is on for investors willing to rehabilitate abandoned villages. Some villages come with a cash purchase price, and at least one Mayor is giving away his village at no cost, provided the new land owner rehabilitates all the structures on site. Spain was relatively late in urbanizing, and urban-rural migration peaked in the mid-20th century (whereas the process happened centuries earlier in many other European countries). Half of all Spanish villages are located in Galicia, the northwestern region that once had Spain’s highest population density but is now particularly hard hit by this ghost village phenomenon. We highly recommend listening to this story from National Public Radio.
In Japan, outlying areas of Tokyo that were once home to workers living in single family homes are seeing increasing levels of vacancy and blight as the next generation chooses to live more centrally within cities. Eight million dwellings are said to have long term vacancies, and half of these are beyond repair. The key policy issue finds echoes in the previous two stories we’ve shared here: “…after decades in which it struggled with overcrowding, Japan is confronting the opposite problem: When a society shrinks, what should be done with the buildings it no longer needs?”
In all three cases, demographic shifts rural to urban areas, aging populations, and declining birth rates have played a major role in these developments. Forced to adapt, small towns in Spain are looking to international tourism and investment, Japan is looking to preservation and revitalization, and Scotland is simply tearing it down and starting from t-zero. These stories pose intriguing policy questions for land recycling and restoration efforts, and highlight the need for new generations of the built environment to be designed to optimize their adaptability to changing demographics. Conversely, in the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, we have a potential precursor to the developmental drawback that has occurred in Scotland, Spain and Japan. While the desert monoliths make for some captivating fine-art photography, in the event that Cairo experiences similar growing pains, what hope is there in redeveloping or repurposing these residential projects as anything but the movie set of the next Star Wars?
Photo courtesy of Giulia van Pelt