Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Quick Note on Downtown Demolition

I was as sad and perturbed as anybody by the news of more hundred-plus year old buildings getting the wrecking ball treatment this week.  I am also perfectly aware of the occasional need to erase some history in order to progress.  However, in Dallas, particularly downtown, rarely has demolition led to a better outcome.  Dallas isn't alone in this impulse.  Corbu wanted to raze the entire Left Bank of Paris.  That would be like flattening Brooklyn for more projects (oh, we did a lot of that?).  Or Robert Moses wishing to plow highways to erase the 'blight' of SoHo and the West Village, some of the most desirable real estate in the world today.  For that reason as much as any, I think there is such distraught over losing a few more memories as we march towards collective senility.  We're just not terribly good at this thing called progress and we have all the evidence to prove it.  Just look around.

Now look at 1939 Dallas:

Sorry to depress  you so early.

There is also the issue of process.  I can actually see some logical defense for knocking down some historic buildings.  They are as follows:

1) You're going to replace it with something truly kickass (that doesn't involve a parking garage).  If you publicize that ahead of time, you certainly calm the fear and loathing.

2) Downtown is out of land to develop.  However, we know that not to be true.  Half of downtown is parking or vacant.  There are plenty of sites to develop.  The real problem is that we shipped the demand (value) out to Oklahoma on a highway.  Thus, we can't fill the buildings we do have and thus the 'market' impulse is to build a new suburbia with high parking counts in order to compete with the suburbs.  This is a suckers/losers' game and it has failed every downtown in this country.  Downtown's must operate on an entirely different logic.

3)  It's purely profit motivated.  I've seen this accusation around.  Two problems herein, the profit motive is how cities get built.  As I mentioned earlier, because land costs are high (because of the expectation of 'downtown') and demand is low (sprawl and highways), developing downtown isn't profitable without subsidy or charity.  We NEED it to be profitable.  Most of what is going on in downtown is through subsidy.  Some is charity, like the Arts District.  I suspect, considering the rumored costs of the Joule Hotel, this is a form of charity and/or legacy building.  That suggests to me, the intent is something 'kickass.'  If so, why not publicize it ahead of time?