What Is the True Value of a Vacant or Abandoned Building?

Bronzeville Abandoned Building

The building above may look nondescript, but is actually in a highly favorable location across the street from Shops and Lofts on 47 in the Bronzeville area of Chicago’s Near South Side. Photo Credit: Audrey F. Henderson, all rights reserved.

Any real estate agent or Realtor can tell you that the three most important factors in determining the potential value of a particular parcel of real estate are, in order: location, location, location. Location can trump other aspects of a structure, including whether it is occupied and its state of (dis)repair. In fact, location plays a large role in determining whether a decrepit building is worthy of the financial investment necessary to reclaim it for productive use, assuming of course that it is structurally sound.

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Facades+ Lands in Chicago July 24 and 25

Inland Steel Building North Elevation

The Inland Steel building, completed in 1958, is one Chicago’s most iconic Modernist buildings. Its stainlesss steel facade, although beautiful, presents challenges for environmentally-efficient retrofitting, due in large part to its landmark status.  Photo Credit: Audrey F. Henderson, all rights reserved.

Over two days, Thursday July 24 and Friday July 25, thought leaders from architecture, design and engineering will come together in the heart of downtown for the 2014 Façades+ Chicago Conference to share their insights on the exteriors that shape our first impressions of buildings. The 2014 Chicago conference was organized by The Architect’s Newspaper and Enclos, with YKK-AP serving as the 2014 Conference chair. Luke Smith of Enclos and Edward Peck of Thornton Tomasetti are serving as co-chairs for the Chicago conference, the eighth in the series.

Since 2012, the Façades+ Conference has established itself as the premier conference on high performance building enclosures. Making its launch in New York City, the Façades+ conference has since added Chicago to its lineup. In October 2014 Façades+ will add Dallas to its roster; Los Angeles will join the list of Façades+ sites in 2015.

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Benefits of High-Speed Rail

America’s Love Affair — with Its Cars

It’s a well known fact that Americans love their cars.  However, with continued fluctuation in gasoline prices and increasingly congested highways, many Americans are becoming more receptive to giving up their cars – or at least trading the daily commute to and from work – for a trip where someone else does the driving. One possible solution that addresses both high gas prices and clogged roadways is high-speed rail.

Highway Traffic

America’s love affair with the automobile routinely results in clogged highway traffic, making the term “rush hour” an ironic misnomer. Photo credit: Audrey F. Henderson, all rights reserved.

In Europe and Asia, where high-speed rail is well established, countries and individual riders alike have enjoyed far ranging benefits as a result  – economic, social, environmental and in added convenience. High-speed rail has also begun to gain traction in the United States. The Obama administration has been especially enthusiastic about high-speed rail, allocating millions of dollars to its expansion. Read the rest of this entry »


Sustainability and Affordable Housing: Maybe Occupy Is Onto Something

The Evolution of the Occupy Movement

Whatever else its participants may or may not have accomplished, the Occupy movement has changed the national conversation from austerity cuts and deficits to acknowledging injustice and resolving financial and social inequality. What began as a loosely organized string of gatherings has evolved to address issues ranging from Wall Street reform to cuts in mental health care.

NATO Summit Protesters

The Occupy movement and related activist groups have changed the national conversation from cuts and deficits to social and economic inequality. Photo credit — Audrey F. Henderson, all rights reserved.

Another injustice that Occupy has been speaking out against has been the ongoing housing and foreclosure crisis. In conjunction with this cause, and as an adjustment to forcible removal from public spaces by law enforcement, the movement has evolved to Occupying abandoned properties and homes of families facing foreclosure as an act of civil disobedience. For instance, in Chicago, a coalition between the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign and Occupy Our Homes recently set a goal of renovating 100 abandoned homes for homeless families and households here in the city.

Outlining the Proposal

As I observed this phenomenon, I started thinking about how ironic and ridiculous it is that there are properties standing empty while families and individuals are homeless.  I began to consider what would be involved in Occupying vacant and abandoned buildings – legally – as affordable housing for homeless families and individuals or for households caught up in the housing crisis. I submitted a proposal for a presentation for the 2012 Chicago Green Festival with the working title “Sustainability and Affordable Housing: Maybe Occupy Is Onto Something.” Read the rest of this entry »


“Going Green” With Building and Maintenance Can Put Your Company in the Black

Many companies have adopted the idea of “going green” in conducting their internal affairs or as an overall focus for doing business. As a result, these companies often significantly minimize their environmental impact. In addition, companies that employ green building and maintenance practices enjoy a number of advantages, ranging from an enhanced public image to improved employee working conditions and a more robust bottom line.

Improved customer image

Customers are influenced in their purchasing decisions by whether a business shows environmental consciousness. For instance, Environmental Leader reported in 2007 that 72 percent of rental customers wanted hybrid vehicles included among rental car options. Nearly half of all cell phone customers consider a mobile carrier provider’s “green” credentials.   In a tough housing market, 70 percent of potential home buyers were more inclined to purchase homes with “green” features, according a 2008 Green SmartMarket Report.  Customers also tend to remain loyal to “green” companies during economic downturns.

Enhanced worker productivity

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines “sick building syndrome” to refer to health-related complaints by workers that cannot be attributed to a particular cause but which are present in an indoor environment.   A similar condition, “building related illness,” applies to health-related complaints directly related to airborne contaminants. Symptoms of “sick building syndrome” and “building related illness” include respiratory distress, headache, fatigue and dizziness, according to the EPA.   A survey of 100 office workers conducted by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) revealed that 23 percent suffered symptoms related to “sick building syndrome.”

City Hall Green Roof

In this photo from 2009, the Chicago City Hall side of this building utilizes a green roof, while the Cook County side does not. The Cook County side has since adopted a white roof.  
Photo Credit: Audrey F. Henderson — all rights reserved

The nationwide cost in lost productivity related to “sick building syndrome” amounts to 2 percent annually, according to New York Real Estate Journal. Increasing indoor ventilation and reducing the indoor concentration of carbon dioxide to meet the standards established by LEED V3 diminishes complaints related to “sick building syndrome,” according to research conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.  LEED V3 standards for indoor ventilation call for a 30 percent increase above the 2007 ASHRAE 62.1 ventilation standard of 20 cubic feet per minute (CFM) per person. Substituting nontoxic building materials, cleaning supplies and office equipment that do not emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) greatly reduces airborne contaminants related to “building related illness.” Read the rest of this entry »


Is the Earth Squandering Its Future?

On The Street of the Lifted Lorax, “the wind smells slow and sour when it blows; and the birds never sing, except for old crows . . . ” In this forsaken place, there are decrepit signs in shoddy disrepair, tufts of grickle-grass, and not much else.

The Street of the Lifted Lorax is Dr. Seuss‘ mythical representation of the consequences of rampant greed and urban sprawl run amok. Although The Lorax was published in 1971, and the animated feature produced in 1972, its lessons still resonate as a cautionary tale, with some of its hardest lessons evidently still unlearned in the real world.

The destruction the Earth’s natural habitats and the effects of climate change are increasingly obvious, with the ironic result of making further commercial ventures viable in regions heretofore inaccessible. The fabled Northwest Passage, long an unattainable shipping lane due to year round Arctic ice cover, may become a reality before the end of this century.

Also ironically, the fossil fuels which are believed to be largely responsible for climate change have become potentially more accessible as well. In August 2005, a Russian research ship was able to reach the North Pole without an icebreaker to clear a pathway – the first time in history. Its mission? To anchor Russia’s claim to virtually half the Arctic Ocean – estimated to hold a full one quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves. Such reserves are nearly irresistible for industrialized and developing economies facing increasing scarcity and higher prices for fossil fuels. A Thneed, after all, is what everyone needs.

The Finnish dream in Sundsberg

This development located near Helsinki represents a Finnish approach to suburbia. Neat and orderly, Sundsberg is nonetheless nearly inaccessible except by car or other private vehicle.
Photo Credit: Audrey F. Henderson, all rights reserved.

The need has become more acute as the planet becomes ever more urbanized, putting further strain on resources such as clean drinking water and arable land suitable for agriculture, never mind uninhabited natural landscapes. According to U.N. Habitat, the world’s urban population will grow from 2.86 billion in 2000 to 4.98 billion by 2030, with much of that growth in the developing world, in medium and low-income countries – with many of the migrants themselves being extremely poor.This is an increasingly urgent situation, which, if unaddressed, is a time bomb in the making. Many cities worldwide are ringed with shantytowns of unimaginable poverty. A major aspect of urban sustainability (if not bottom-line livability) in decades to come will be in dealing with this influx of people, both in numbers and in the scope of their social needs. Read the rest of this entry »