Run-down, dilapidated, crime-infested and drug-ridden are descriptors that homeowners typically avoid attaching to their neighborhoods — unless those terms describe what the area was like before its revitalization.
Now, many of the urban neighborhoods that were forsaken in the 1960s, '70s and '80s are staging a resurgence. Frequently, artists seeking affordable work spaces have been at the forefront of this urban renaissance. This was the case in Manhattan's SoHo, which transformed from a warehouse district in the 1970s to the upscale gallery and residential community it is today. Usually, it doesn't take long for developers to get in on the action.
Cabbagetown, AtlantaWhen its Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills complex closed in the mid-1970s, the Cabbagetown neighborhood, a few miles from downtown Atlanta, entered a steep decline. But when artists discovered the rows of inexpensive shotgun houses, the neighborhood began a transformation.
Today, the original mill complex, which was built between 1881 and 1922 and manufactured canvas tents for the Army during World War I, has been converted into one of the country's largest communities of New York-style lofts.
The mill-turned-lofts opened in 2000 and include the Stacks, a beautifully landscaped condominium property that has retained its historic relevance. One-bedroom condos there start at around $130,000, and two-bedroom units begin at around $170,000. Although a tornado damaged the property in 2008, it has since been repaired.
The surrounding streets bustle with trendy bars, shops and restaurants. Not to be missed is the Chomp and Stomp, a chili cook-off and bluegrass festival held each November.
Rockridge, Oakland, Calif.While the computer and biotech boom started to bring new riches to the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980s, many considered Oakland a dying industrial city in the East Bay, well on its way to becoming a wasteland of drugs and violence.
City, state and federal aid in the 1990s, however, kick-started a turnaround. The leafy residential streets of the city's Rockridge neighborhood attracted Bay Area workers looking for a good deal and easy access to public transportation for their jobs across the bay.
Today, Rockridge's walkable College Avenue is known as a leading retail hub. Near it are residential streets that sport single- and two-family homes in styles that range from modern to Victorian, Craftsman and Mediterranean.
Roosevelt Row, PhoenixIn the mid-1990s, a cluster of run-down, pre-World War II bungalows on the once-bustling northern edge of downtown Phoenix, known as Roosevelt Row, became the "it" place for artists in search of inexpensive space to live, work and show off their wares.
"The blighted area was attractive to artists because the boarded-up buildings and former crack houses were affordable for studio and gallery space," according to the website of the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corp., a nonprofit that advocates for the revitalization of downtown Phoenix. Soon, the creative set began revitalizing the area with a laid-back vibe that's attracting a mix of cafes, restaurants and galleries.
On the first Friday night of each month, thousands of people flood the streets for one of the largest art walks in the country.
Columbia City, SeattleHip bars, trendy restaurants, cute shops and a farmer's market grace the pedestrian-friendly commercial district of Rainier Avenue South in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood. They're a sign that this once-sketchy neighborhood has undergone a sea change in the past decade.
The transformation began with artists and other pioneers who found gold restoring classic Craftsman homes near Rainier Avenue in the 1980s. A decade later, as the "Sicilian soul food" restaurant La Medusa started making a name for itself, the area attracted more visitors. By the late 1990s, real-estate prices increased, and stylish new condos and townhouses sprouted where there used to be weeds.
Today, Columbia City is a diverse and dynamic community served by Seattle's new light rail. It sports everything from a historic, vaudeville theater to a European-style coffee bar, Empire Espresso, where soccer aficionados can catch a satellite broadcast while gulping a strong shot of caffeine. Residents in this part of south Seattle also have applauded the introduction of a long-overdue neighborhood movie theater, the Columbia City Cinema.
Pilsen, ChicagoJobs in factories, lumber yards and docks along the Chicago River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal attracted a large Czech population to Chicago's Lower West Side in the 19th century. They named the neighborhood Pilsen after a favorite city back home.
Although the area suffered as factories closed, Pilsen remained a first stop for new immigrants. By the late 20th century, Latinos had replaced the Czechs, and artists discovered cheap rent in empty warehouses and factories. Restaurants, bars and young hipsters followed the artists, bringing a new type of diversity and a new vibe to Pilsen. Developers also discovered the area and turned the historic warehouses into condos and lofts, in addition to building townhouses.
The speed of Pilsen's gentrification has led some neighborhood-advocacy groups to lobby local politicians to slow down development, while retaining the area's Latin-American culture and preserving the neighborhood's famous murals.
Jamaica Plain, BostonA 1960s proposal to build a highway through the "southwest corridor" of Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood accelerated white flight to the suburbs. The road was never built, but during the project's planning stages, hundreds of businesses and families were uprooted, shaking the community.
Many of the former factory workers' homes turned over to Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican immigrants, giving the neighborhood an eclectic mix. But abandoned factories left the neighborhood in a state of neglect.
The turnaround started in the late 1980s, when cheap rent attracted students, artists and a vibrant lesbian and gay community. In the past decade, conversion of commercial spaces into condos added to the neighborhood's appeal for new residents. Now Jamaica Plain, a 4.5-square-mile community, has become one of the hottest neighborhoods in Boston, leaving some local boosters wondering if they can afford to stay.
North End, Boise, IdahoThe North End is Boise's most desirable neighborhood, thanks to its expansive, tree-lined streets chock-full of quaint cottages; Queen Anne, Craftsman and Tudor homes; pocket parks; and nearby restaurants and shops. But this wasn't always the case.
After World War II and into the 1960s, the North End fell out of favor. Many of its magnificent homes had been split into apartments, and others simply weren't cared for. By the early '70s, the North End was considered a slum.
Reinvestment in the area and zoning-law changes in the mid-'70s ushered in the neighborhood's renaissance. Also helping its cause were a series of historic-district designations and organized residents committed to maintaining the North End's character.
Del Ray, Alexandria, Va.In its heyday, Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood was home to families of workers at the bustling Potomac Yard, which in the 1930s was one of the busiest rail yards on the East Coast. But as train culture began to wane and the rail yard closed in the 1980s, the neighborhood fell on hard times and entered a long season of blight.
In the late 1990s, residents rediscovered the narrow grid of streets filled with tightly packed homes and a charming main street within commuting distance of Washington, D.C. Today, Del Ray sports a mix of single-family homes, condos, apartments and businesses. The neighborhood's main street, and the center of much of the community's activities, is Mount Vernon Avenue.
North Oak Cliff, DallasTurn-of-the-century homes. Tree-lined streets. A short bike ride from downtown Dallas. These help comprise the appeal of North Oak Cliff, a neighborhood left behind in the post-World War II rush for the suburbs. Today, the neighborhood is attracting many young, urban professionals.
North Oak Cliff has been successfully shedding its reputation as run-down and dangerous for one of being hip, cool and not opposed to redevelopment that includes shops, restaurants and bars.
Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, New YorkProspect Heights, one of Brooklyn's oldest neighborhoods, has witnessed dramatic economic and demographic changes in the past 15 years. Most have come from younger people, priced out of neighboring communities such as Park Slope, that have swooped in to take advantage of more affordable rents and lower home prices.
But demographic swings are hardly new to Prospect Heights. In the early 1900s, it was home to generations of Irish, Jewish, Italian, Greek and German residents. In the 1960s and '70s, as second-generation residents fled to the suburbs and crime increased, the neighborhood began to decline. But an influx of West Indian residents brought new vitality to Prospect Heights in the 1980s.
Today, the neighborhood's century-old brownstones share space with gleaming, new high-rise condominiums. The neighborhood features opulent buildings along Eastern Parkway, including the Brooklyn Public Library at the magnificent Grand Army Plaza, where the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch — Brooklyn’s equivalent of the Arc de Triomphe — stands. And then there are the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park, which Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux created as an encore to Manhattan's Central Park.