Adaptive Reuse of Historic Churches in New York City: the Opportunities + Challenges for Community Development

Urban Planning Thesis

Grigor Avakyan

Stacey Sutton, advisor

This thesis, set in New York City and Pittsburgh, sought to explore the various effects of adaptive reuse of old churches, the opportunities for community development within it, potential obstacles to its success, and the ways to make it more workable. New use as market rate condominiums or co-ops is the most common type of conversion of churches is New York City, but other uses have been successful elsewhere. The thesis sought to identify the reasons behind the typical adaptive reuse outcomes in New York and compare them to Pittsburgh, where various factors have allowed churches in to be used for community development, neighborhood regeneration, and commercial establishments. In order to understand the opportunities presented by adaptive reuse, this thesis covered the roots of adaptive reuse starting from its emergence from the historic preservation movement to its popularization in the present time in history. In an attempt to comprehend the various outcomes for case studies in the two cities, this study explored the demographic and economic features of the neighborhoods where the churches are located, and draws from the knowledge from literature, relevant policies, the discussion on various incentives, and personal interviews to paint a comprehensive picture of why, how, and under what conditions certain churches are adapted. Finally, the many aspects of each case study were brought together and analyzed in a multi-scalar comparative analysis, providing an in-depth understanding of the determinants for the successes stories. For the one church in this study that has not yet been adapted, I proposed recommendations that could, in theory, lead to a successful conversion to new use. It was my hope that this thesis would help to describe why church conversion outcomes are such as they are, and how the adaptive reuse can help to preserve historic churches and benefit the communities in which they are located.