Real estate developer Derek Avery sits down with CivicBrand founder Ryan Short to discuss revitalization without gentrification and the role of preservation in development. We were first introduced to Derek when he gave an inspiring talk at a Strong Towns event on the topic of Revitalization without Gentrification. The many definitions of gentrification can be all over the place and the solutions even more so. As a developer Derek takes a very practical approach that involves understanding the community, understanding the history and understanding the role of housing and density to help revitalize communities without gentrifying them.
Ryan Short: We all want our neighborhoods, our properties and our communities to thrive, and to revitalize and to be the very best that they can be. But how do we do that and avoid gentrifying certain areas to the point where they’re excluding individuals who are the key to the fabric of that community? How do developers and preservationists work together in a way that can be a win win situation? We just have the privilege of listening to Derek Avery, a developer give a talk on revitalization without gentrification. And it was an amazing talk and I had an opportunity to sit down with him for a few minutes after his talk and just pick his brain on that topic. So, hope you enjoy.
Derek Avery: Okay. My name is Derek Avery, I’m the founder and president of core holdings, LLC. I’m a real estate developer by trade and I’m also a property tax consultant and basically what we look at is inner city areas, typically that are close to the central business district and we look at ways to revitalize those areas without gentrifying them.
Ryan Short: I guess right out of the gate. I’m just going to play devils advocate for a second. I mean, tell me why should developers care about preservation in culture, when their objective is to redevelop a property and sell it for the most money that they can?
Derek Avery: Sure, one of the things I think we forget, is when you look at development on a short term basis, it’s just purely profit driven. But if you’re looking at it from a long term basis, then it’s deeper than just profit, you’re actually redeveloping the area when it comes to the people when it comes to the culture. And there are specific histories that are already there. And I think that if you take a short term approach, you don’t really get to take advantage of understanding that history and honoring that history. So, I think it would be also it would endear the community if you’re coming in to revitalize by making the community a participant in that. And so, I think that a lot of times developers are short sighted.
Ryan Short: So, we’ve been working on a project in Dallas, called Embrace Dallas. It’s a campaign and brand that we’ve created around raising funds for a cultural and historical survey in Dallas. The goal being to really just make sure we understand what do we have here, you know, looking at the buildings and the stories and the culture that surrounds those buildings and putting together the data so that we can then arm developers and city leaders and residents with that information about what they even have because, you know, it’s really hard to protect and preserve things that you don’t even know that you have, or you don’t know the significance of them. Do you think that that’s something that is valuable to developers to arm them with that information?
Derek Avery: Absolutely. I think that we need that desperately because if I’m not armed with the information, then, you know, I may be callous and go in and not develop something the way that it should. You know, one of the examples was in Houston where Midtown, which was originally Fourth Ward, there were bricks that were laid by the slaves when they were freed and the city wanted to gentrify that area. Well, they made a mistake and the contractor destroyed all of those bricks. And because there was a miscue between the contractor and the city and people not understanding the history, it cause a destruction of history. And so for me having this type of study would be helpful with understanding the history and making sure we don’t make those types of mistakes and making sure that other developers don’t make those mistakes.
Ryan Short: What would you say to developers that might just view preservation and all of this as is kind of just a thorn in their side as a barrier, something just in the way of letting them do what they want to do with their property?
Derek Avery: Sure. One thing that I would say about preservation is I think that we make it too complicated. I think that if you understood the history of the area and educated yourself on that, you would see it less as a complication and more of, okay, I’m honoring this history. I can build around what’s already there and build it on scale with what’s there. So, I think that more developers would be more thoughtful in their approach, if they were armed with that information.
Ryan Short: Do you think that preservation and understanding the culture and history of the community can actually make a developer or make a project even more successful than if they didn’t?
Derek Avery: Absolutely, I think they would definitely be more successful long term because then one, if you’re preserving some of that architectural integrity of the area, it creates a higher valuation long term instead of just bulldozing things and building something that, you know, is uninspired. You want to have inspired development, you want thought going into the development and so long term you create more valuable properties. And if you incorporate, you know, additional dwelling units within that type of development, then you’re actually creating intergenerational wealth by having more units more density in that area. And this creates affordable housing, which we have a particular crisis with right now.
Ryan Short: Yes. So, you bring up density, which is a great, great point. You know, we’ve been talking about culture and history and obviously that’s extremely important. But affordability and is so key and density is a tool that we can use to keep things affordable and turn properties that, you know, are run down, well, we can revitalize them. But if we increase the density, I mean you spoke about that if we can increase the density there, then how can that help? Can you can you talk more about that?
Derek Avery: When you look at a house that may be dilapidated, it’s also creating an affordable house for someone to live. And so, if we’re not replacing that affordability, then we’re not doing a service to the community. So, I think that by having a preservation attitude, you can actually make something more valuable. I also think it’s, I think it’s important to understand history because we all know that history repeats itself if we’re not cognizant of what happened before. So, with a developer, understanding history, they can definitely go in and be more thoughtful in their approach. And I think that’s extremely important when it comes to creating resilient communities.
Ryan Short: Do you think it’s possible and beneficial for preservationists and developers to have a win win relationship that benefits both of them?
Derek Avery: I think that it is a symbiotic relationship with preservation and with developers. I think that on the preservation side, you get when you have a developer you actually get better product, and because sometimes people want to preserve things, but then they don’t want new development. But I think that if you team up the preservationist with the developer, you can create a better product for that neighborhood. And also on the developer side, you become more understanding of what’s there and you build a better product. I’m completely convinced that the more information you have the better product you can produce.
Ryan Short: It’s often been said that the best cities in the world are really just collections of unique and interesting neighborhoods. I guess my question is, you know, do you agree with that? And do you think that understanding culture and making sure that we’re not gentrifying areas, is key to making great cities because that’s what creates great neighborhoods?
Derek Avery: Yes, I definitely agree with that because you don’t want a monolithic community. You want some variation, you want areas to have their own character, you want people in those areas to create that character. So, I think it’s a positive thing. And I have seen it in certain places in Dallas, you have examples like deep ellum, you know, it grew naturally. Now, of course, it’s, you know, gone beyond that because of the popularity but, if you look at the original model, its artists getting together to create spaces that were unique to them. So, I think it’s very positive.
Ryan Short: Well, I greatly appreciate your time and your talk that you gave on this subject. Is there any parting words that you’d want to give to anybody that’s listening?
Derek Avery: I would definitely say that this study is necessary because if we aren’t armed with information, we cannot make decisions that are healthy for our future and healthy for the next generation. And that really should be our goal to create lived environments for the next generation and the generation after that. So, I would really want people to pay attention to preservation and pay attention to the study so that we’re armed with the right information as opposed to assumptions.
Ryan Short: Well, again, Derek, thanks so much for your time. I greatly appreciate it and hope you have a great weekend.
Derek Avery: Cool. That’s it.
Ryan Short: Yes.
Derek Avery: Awesome. Thank you so much.