One of the things that drives me crazy is when I’m walking around somewhere and I encounter a building with a giant blank wall set back some distance from the street. Wearing my capitalist hat, I see these kinds of “nothing” spaces and I just cringe at the lost income that it represents for the property owner. Wearing my urbanist hat, I see these kind of spaces and feel frustrated by the lost opportunity. Where there could be life, there is void.
One of the most ridiculous examples of this can be found on the side of the main building of the MFAH. If you haven’t been to the Museum of Fine Art, you should, it’s fantastic. One nice thing is that it’s located directly at the Musuem District Station on the light rail, so if the train is an option for you then you can get there without dealing with parking.
However, if you do arrive using the southbound train you’ll find this blank wall across the street.
Obviously the Museum needs to have carefully regulated light and air, and they need high security, so I understand why they don’t have secondary entries on every side of the building. That said, this giant void space is just begging for some life to come fill it it. It wouldn’t take much. For maybe 10 grand you could frame-in some simple, small art display spaces against the liner wall, and then you could turn around and rent these as “mini-galleries” for local artists and craftsmen to showcase and sell their work.
In five-minute scribble form it might look something like this:
There are opportunities for large businesses to incorporate these kinds of incubator spaces all over the city. Whether they’re art incubators (appropriate for the museum district and the MFAH) or start-up business spaces, there are blank-wall-voids all over our urban core, and it’s foolish not to use them for something.
Turning these voids into dirt cheap incubator spaces would not only represent a dramatic improvement in walkability, it would also be an economic boon. Any time you lower the barrier to entry you help spark entrepreneurial activity. Being able to get a “major street” address for your company is a big move, even if you’re only renting 150 sqft or so.
Obviously we can’t even start an experiment like this without the City getting out of the way… just one more reason to push for the removal of setbacks and parking regs in our urban core.