Objective: Develop a proposal at the political, planning, and architectural scales that addresses the most pressing issues in the ailing city of Bridgeport, CT
Response: This project seeks to redefine how the individual, the corporation, and the public relates to the notion of property. By focusing on the widening of the socio-political spectrum to whom ownership is accessible, we sought to significantly enhance Bridgeport’s stewardship of their urban resources.
One of the prevailing issues the city of Bridgeport faces is stasis. Every action that the city needs to move through must proceed through an economic and spatial environment that has, for decades, been left in a state of stagnation. As a result, a 'nothing-happens' economy has left the city with a depressed urban development culture, and, perhaps more devastating, it has left the city with an image of low expectations. From outside the city, Bridgeport is perceived as a post-industrial wasteland that has failed to re-invent itself within the context of a 21st century economy.
The bleak economic history of the city is recorded in its census tract records and in the state’s economic reports. The city is marked by dozens of post industrial wasteland sites. While these location do not sprawl across the city’s fabric, their existence as ruins enforce a conception of the city as a place of stagnation.
Many post-industrial cities have found ways to tie former factories into their resurgence. As a result, the discarded industrial fabric of these cities has been host to a transformed, albeit problematic, view of the urban experience. Loft apartments and fashionable boutiques have replaced the hulking ruins. This has not happened in Bridgeport.
The history of Bridgeport can be seen through the collision between its many grids. The intersections have produced block structures that inherently lead to irregularly shaped and oddly sized parcels. While many of the area’s two and three unit buildings would fit comfortably within 0.1 acre sites, the city’s parcels range from 0.05 to 0.4 acres.
This has left the city of Bridgeport with many opportunities for densification. While there is room to build somewhat smaller residential structures within these residential areas, the city’s current zoning code effectively forbids any actual development. The UseMyLot app can be used in these situations in the exact way it is used to subdivide large, speculatively owned parcels of land. In Bridgeport’s residential zones, the current restriction on new parcels smaller than 9000 square feet must be amended. Not only are such parcels spatially impossible, they are also neither needed nor desired by the current possible scale of development. The market can, however, support the introduction of small residential units. Small units have no use for nine thousand square foot parcels.
A considerable amount of buildable land is currently tied up in parcels that already are occupied by structures. Zoning codes require side yard, front yard and rear yard setbacks that effectively eliminate the possibility of densification within each parcel. This is especially apparent within the city’s two-family and three-family residential zones. In many cases, an existing building footprint will only occupy one quarter of the parcel. While open space is of course critically important in any urban center, the required amount of, and the distribution of, open space in these zones goes far beyond the requirements of fire separating, daylighting, and natural ventilation.
Allowance for increased density will do much to enrich the experience of the city. The space of the street, for example, can shift from its current field condition to being a volumetric space defined by an increasingly continuous building frontage. To accomplish this, new infill construction must be allowed to take place within the space that is now taken up by the required side yard setback.
The UseMyLot application can also be utilized to transform existing buildings from having legal property definitions specifically formulated for a rental market into property definitions that support small scaled home ownership. Specifically, the UseMyLot app streamlines the process of transforming multi-unit buildings with one owner into condominiums and co-ops with many owners.
Many empty parcels within the medium and high density areas of Bridgeport are all that remain from the large industrial structures that once populated the city. In the city’s post-industrial present, redevelopment has yet to rebuild structures on these parcels. Most of these pieces of land exist in a holding pattern.
The owners compile these parcels into speculative real estate investment portfolios and simply wait for an opportunity to re-sell the unimproved lot at a profit. As part of this speculation scheme, large parcels of land are used as parking space, bulk material storage areas, or self-storage facilities. Income from these uses covers a part of the property’s tax exposure and maintenance costs. In Bridgeport’s current real-estate development environment, these parcels will remain undeveloped for an indeterminate period of time.
Completed: May 2016
Critic: Keller Easterling
Collaborators: Paul Lorenz