Since there’s never been enough empirical data on the value of older buildings for my taste, I’m happy to say that I just stumbled across a study entitled Jane Jacobs and the Value of Older, Smaller Buildings in the Journal of the American Planning Association (February 2016).
The article supplies empirical support for Jane Jacobs’s (1961) seminal argument about the value of “plain, ordinary, low-value old buildings,” finding that older, smaller buildings support dense, diverse streets and neighborhoods (p. 187). It uses spatial regression models to analyze how social and economic activity relate to building characteristics in Seattle (WA), San Francisco (CA), Tucson (AZ), and Washington, DC. On a per commercial square foot basis, areas with older, smaller buildings and mixed-vintage blocks support more jobs in new businesses, small businesses, and businesses in creative industries.
However, while areas with older, smaller buildings have greater diversity of resident age and higher proportions of small businesses, the study also finds lower proportions of Hispanic and non-white residents, indicating limited racial and ethnic diversity.
The article’s a bit dense, but kudos to the authors, Michael Powe, Jonathan Mabry, Emily Talen and Dillon Mahmoudi. And next time you take a walk in your favorite neighborhood, look around and think about the physical context!