Can we all just take a moment to evaluate what we are about to destroy, please? Everyone sit the heck down and stop with the broad, sweeping indictment of boarded up houses headed for the chopping block. Anyone who immediately responds to news of demolition with applause and merriment is being lazy and not fully using their noodle. (And, moreover not learning from past lessons.) Before I get off on a rant here, let me say: I’m not in favor of saving every structure everywhere based on its vintage or anything else. And I applaud efforts to ‘improve’ our city. The issue here, however, is: the word “improve” is being perverted and manipulated and people are falling for it, unquestioned. “Improve” is most frequently a matter of opinion and perspective. If I were driving a ‘hooptie’ maybe I would say I ‘improved’ my ride with a shiny new set of rims. To the rest of the world, it may just appear like some shiny rims on a p.o.s. car. See what I mean?
Sadly, most of us can probably offer at least one address of an abandoned property in Indianapolis– some ‘eyesore,’ that ought to be bulldozed. But just because you can think of one (or more) examples, doesn’t mean that a government-compiled list of 2,000+ will all meet the same criteria you may have in mind. Today’s ‘prayer,’ is that the incumbent destruction will be more closely scrutinized. What is the evaluation process on this? An article from the IBJ, dated July 19, 2010 said after the sale of the city’s water and sewer utilities, “…some of the proceeds will be used to quadruple the city’s effort to bulldoze or rehabilitate abandoned homes.” Did I miss the 2011 reports on the rehabilitation portion of the program? Is this how some of our Community Development Corporations (CDC’s) are acquiring and rehabbing properties? If so, great: I’ll eat some of my words. And let me interrupt to give props for a moment: over in St. Clair Place and surrounding area, for example, there numerous renovations to buildings that look much like those that might typically be targeted for a tear down–they are making some miraculous changes. (And fyi for those interested: check in at City Gallery if you want to get a list of the various CDC’s with properties already loved back to life, and neighborhoods with growth potential out the wazoo.) I’m just having trouble understanding and reconciling how some of the homes slated for demolition made it to this list.
Using 2012 N. Park Avenue, as an example: the need for demolition is not apparent to me–ok, it looks like no one is living there, but that seems a pretty innocuous offense. If there are greater structural issues to be considered, how was that determination reached? Was a structural engineer hired? If not, it makes the destruction even more egregious. If so, who footed the bill? If the city can bulldoze it, then surely they can repossess it? And if they can repossess it, why can’t they offer it for sale and rehabilitation, with the caveat that it must be rehabbed within X amount of time or gets re-possessed again? And no more breaks for these jackholes who wait til the final hour to pay their property taxes time after time after time. I think we need a law that exponentially increases the property tax on any abandoned/ vacant property holdings that are not being actively marketed to sell or are not in the process of rehabbing. Stop rewarding the people who sit on these properties for decades! I recognize that this would require many more man hours, but we are talking about the future of the city, so applying a one-size-fits all approach to this issue is creating as many problems as it intends to solve. Indigent property owners have not been held accountable for far too long. I’m all for exponential increases for people who sit on vacant buildings for years on end. Give them a grace period of two or three years to start, and beyond that: too bad, you need to start making bigger contributions to the tax base or G.T.H.O.!
According to the city’s “Abandoned Houses Program: Making Neighborhoods Safer” the goal is to “…eliminate safety problem areas and improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods.” I’m sorry, but you cannot improve the quality of life of a neighborhood by decimating it. Funny thing about neighborhoods…as you might glean from the name, is that it should be populated with neighbors. Not empty lots.
Rather than the recent competition to dream up some alternative imaginary world for Monument Circle, (which from the outset, was advertised as having no chance of ever being implemented- WTH?), how about having a competition of ideas for this quandary? There is enough creative power in this city to craft an amazing future/ trajectory for this city and become anything and everything we want. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Whether this be creative restructuring of laws, partnering with a variety of people and entities or anything else it takes, we can certainly come up with a better scenario for everyone who wants to be here and contribute to this city.
Local historian, Connie Zeigler, and owner of C. Resources, Inc. has proposed some creative measures on facebook through her business page and on the Stop the Demolitions, Indianapolis page. Reading some real stories this week of people trying to save houses is an exercise in frustration.
I visited 2012 N. Park this week on the spur of the moment and became quickly tongue tied, exasperated and a bit queasy, attempting to comprehend how this house could possibly be demolished. And it made me think of all the empty lots in my own neighborhood, with their steps to nowhere. Cue up “Road to Nowhere,” and may it never become our city’s theme song…