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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Dear Subway Sandwich Fairy: Thank You for Paying It Forward

The Subway Sandwich Fairy was here!

“Random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” in the form of a tray of sandwiches half-submerged in snow. Photo Credit: Audrey F. Henderson — All Rights Reserved

Dear Subway Sandwich Fairy:

I hope you don’t mind that I’ve given you this nickname. It seems fitting given the tray of fifteen Subway sandwiches in a sealed container that you left on a bench at Chase Plaza in the middle of downtown Chicago. I have no idea who you really are, but I know one important thing about you: you are a kind, caring person who wishes to preserve the privacy and dignity of those hungry people who happen to consume one or more of those sandwiches.

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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 »

Driving the Ford Focus Electric

As much as progressives and ecologically inclined individuals promote public transit, car sharing and other planet-friendly alternatives to individually operated vehicles, the fact remains that America loves its cars.  To be fair, there are instances when nearly all individuals need or want access to a car, van or truck.  In rural areas and regions where public transit is scarce or nonexistent, being without one’s own vehicle literally means being stranded.

It’s no wonder, then, that one of the most heavily visited exhibits at the 2012 Chicago Green Festival was the all-electric Ford Focus, one of several models on display by Ford.  Visually modeled after the popular and well-reviewed gasoline powered Ford Focus, the all-electric model is Ford’s answer to the Nissan Leaf and, to a lesser extent, the dual gasoline and electric-powered Chevrolet Volt.   According to the representatives at the Green Festival, there are only 36 Focus Electric models on the road at present, mostly utilized as company cars for Internet giants Google and Yahoo.   However, the manufacturing plant in Wayne, Michigan is equipped to produce the Focus along with other Ford models, and can increase or decrease production as demand warrants.

The all-electric model is priced at a hefty $39,999. However, buyers are eligible to receive federal income tax credits that can decrease the out-of-pocket costs;  additional financial incentives may also be available at the state level.    In addition, owners of all-electric cars are  spared the pain at the pump of fluctuating (and usually increasing) gasoline prices.   Home charging stations for overnight charging of the Focus Electric are available at Best Buy, with installation by the Geek Squad.   Public charging stations are also becoming increasingly available, especially in urban areas.

Ford Focus Electric

The all-electric Ford Focus was one of the most popular exhibits at the 2012 Chicago Green Festival, held May 5 and 6 at Navy Pier. Photo Credit — Audrey F. Henderson, all rights reserved.

Like the Toyota Leaf, the Focus Electric derives its power from a lithium-ion battery.   The Focus Electric has a regenerative braking system that recaptures up to 90 percent of the energy normally lost through conventional friction braking. It also has a liquid-powered heating and cooling system to regulate battery temperature against exterior conditions, which can be a real advantage with the temperature extremes that occur in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »