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The R3 Trick

If you look at an aerial photo of Eugene, Oregon, the downtown is easy to find: it looks the most empty. Vast, warehouse-like commercial buildings look as interesting as parking lots when viewed from space: residential neighborhoods look dense by comparison.

Not coincidentally, right now, if you visit Eugene's downtown, you'll find the least active neighborhood in town. The lack of density and differentiation, visible from space thanks to urban renewal, make it a very weak place economically: there's not much anyone can do with such a massively built downtown, in this economy.

Unless you find some tricks.

One trick, is to take some of these commercial buildings, and convert parts of them to housing. Then you'll have more real life downtown.

Unfortunately, uniform building codes require serious, and very expensive, seismic upgrades for old commercial spaces, when converted to multiunit housing.

But there's an interesting exception -- if you turn a space into a house, or a boarding house, both of which are occupancy category R3, you do not need a seismic upgrade!

So, take a bit of a commercial building, and call it a house. Put in five bedrooms, a kitchen and bathrooms.

What use is that? Don't people want apartments?

I wouldn't advocate everyone live in a boarding house or communal apartment, but in certain situations, it's perfect.

Say you're trying to find ways to make vast, former commercial spaces into a community center. The R3 trick can be the key to making it work.

Community projects rely on volunteer labor and donations, but they also need a core team. If the project is running quickly enough, the core team can survive from the income of the community project. But it needs every subsidy it can get. If subsidized housing, even a boarding house, can be provided on site, then the core team can expand to include the guests there, and they will be at the community center, thinking about it all the time.

We're doing this here, in this building. We hope to re-inject people into the commercial district using this technique. Watch this space for details.

Greg Bryant
July 10, 2003