Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Demolition by Neglect

St. Louis tears down lots of buildings. It's part of our history. We've historically torn down lots of buildings, and today, we tear down historic buildings.

Some. Not all. It all depends. Try to tear down a historic building in Soulard or Lafayette Square, and lots of people will try to stop you. Try to tear down a piece of sentimental history, like an old flying saucer shaped building, and lots of people will try to stop you.

But try to demolish a building by neglect, and hardly anyone notices. Demolition by neglect is hard to detect. It usually starts on the inside. When a building is vacant. Or when the rents no longer support the operating expenses.

Then the building might get into the hands of a slumlord, or "cash flow investor", or a bank through a foreclosure. Or maybe all three through a slow, grinding process, while, all along the building slowly decays. Perhaps in a few years the building ends up in the city's LRA inventory. But by then, most of the damage has already been done.

Look at a privately owned, run down building. Check out its building history on the city's online database. Chances are you'll find records of code violations, Citizen Service Bureau complaints, and maybe even a notice of condemnation for demolition.

Who prevents such losses? In a city with scarce resources, where does the issue of demolition by neglect rank? I think the best answer in St. Louis is that these sorts of things are handled at the neighborhood level, through a partnership effort starting at the individual city block by the people impacted the most: the neighbors. Then efforts build up from there.

If things happen to prevent such problems from taking hold, it usually starts with the neighbors, but it would be good to do more. It would be good to crack down on slumlords, although the housing courts are logjammed. It would be good to carry out emergency stabilization on buildings, liening the owners for the cost, but city funds for such purposes are very tight.

The truth is, looking at any one piece of community development in St. Louis outside of a broader context usually reveals very about the real story behind the raw numbers and photographs. When you dig, you find lots of little stories, all layered together, making for a complex world that doesn't translate easily to quick solutions.

Real solutions require lots of work, usually a lot of money, and working within the system. In time, we can hope that everything comes together to result in slow, gradual progress.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

when rents no longer supports a building, it is bought by a slumlord. Would you prefer that no
one buy it? The slumlord who buys
it tries to make it work, in the face of delinquent tenants, harass-
ment by the city and neighbors, rising costs. No thanks--let the
bui;dings be torn down