Cries of the heart over battered remains of vacant and long-neglected buildings can work against the careful choice-work and long-term commitment to conservation that is the backbone of preservation and sustainability. This literature of lament can devolve into righteous recrimination, create counterproductive division, discourage risk taking to rescue buildings, and foment crises that contribute to waste and misallocation of scarce resources.
Above all, it tends to ignore the laws of physics and broad currents of history, to devalue the active, hands-on work of conservation and preservation, and elevate often irredeemable artifacts of minor masterpieces over place-making and the lives of real people who daily must live amid what often amount to ruins.
During the month of June 2014, the Building Division of the City of St. Louis issued 45 demolition permits. More than half were for commercial properties; 12 were either for sheds or garages; all but 17 were sought by private land owners.
The ecology of this loss involves more than the weight and heft of the brick-and-mortar. It’s not enough to consider a structure’s historic place in a built environment, or to speculate about its claim to a community’s collective imagination. Practical questions can not reasonably be ignored:
Who has advanced a specific plan to secure, improve or restore the property? How do vacancy and disrepair affect the quality of daily lives of neighboring residents? How much subsidy would be needed to secure and protect the facility for future use? How much subsidy would be required to make it habitable?
Do these permits reflect a civic culture of demolition? Or, increasingly, are they a marked exception to a growing culture of preservation? Some answers may be found in 30 days of preservation: For each data point of demolition during June 2014, there’s an extensive inventory of deliberate, routine, publicly-recorded acts of conservation, preservation and restoration — many of them profound — that occurred during the same 30 days.
Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of Mayor Francis G. Slay
City of St. Louis, Missouri
“30 Days of Demolition” is supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Pulitzer Arts Foundation.