Knock Them Down Redux

Today’s Recorder editorial makes a case for more demolition to turning the city around (here). In fact, it seems like demolition is the strategy. I respectfully disagree.

First let me state that demolition is a tool not a strategy. There is no question that certain buildings are beyond repair and given current economics, they must be torn down. I have not seen any numbers but as a percentage of total housing stock, I believe it is is a very low figure. So the editorial basically is arguing, if I characterize it correctly, for a wider initiative of demolition in blighted areas.

Predictably this is a supply-sided only argument, it neither address nor encompasses any demand side arguments. At the end of this exercise with whole sweeps of green space in the city, I’m  still not sure why I would move to Amsterdam. What has changed in terms of livability in the city? The editorial posits that costs would be reduced and hence taxes lowered. I’m not convinced that an economic case exists in this approach. After all, the state of our current green space, our parks, is not ideal and would not the green spaces require maintenance and services on an ongoing basis?

Again  I’m not opposed to more green spaces; let’s get rid of our asphalt lots and make them green spaces. But green spaces need services and attention too. And let’s be honest that not all green spaces are created equal. A keen reminder will be a visit to the Kirk Douglas Park.

If you indeed think that demolition is a strategy, you must then address the following to execute said strategy:

– What is the funding stream to fund demolition? What are the total dollars required for this effort?

-Who decides and by what criteria the neighborhoods to be demolished? What is the socioeconomic criteria for your neighborhood to be demolished?

-How will the city compensate private property owners and will the city pursue eminent domain?

I could go on but it is clear that many difficulties lie with this strategy not the least of which is the economics. Or put another way, if we could easily get millions of dollars to tear things down why not get millions to restore largely historic properties? Well, you know what I could say but I’ll exercise some restraint here and let you fill in the spaces.

I’ll admit not only frustration but a sense of bewilderment at why issues get framed only as a supply-side issue and never consider any demand side policies. It seems we’ve tried this strategy with gusto before and it’s hardly succeeded. What makes it different now?

A pry bar and a wrecking ball cannot be the only tools in a turnaround. You need more tools than that. We need economic drivers to build things up not tear them down.

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