Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Is demolition the right answer?

Housing Commissioner Graziano, flanked by a backhoe and the Mayor speaks of  Vacants to Value" as a "relentless  program, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood." He stands on North Rose Street just east of the EBDI area, also known for relentless demolition of rowhouses.
Housing Commissioner Graziano speaks at Rose Street demolition August 4.
(Baltimore Sun)
Neighbors are typically glad to see the vacant eyesores with their musky smell come down. But does demolition really add value?

The answer is: It depends. On what comes after demolition, on whether a full block or just a single house between others gets torn down, what the historic and architectural value of the house is and if it or the block missing destroys the fabric of the neighborhood.  It also depends on the overall plan for the city, which the mayor describes as growth. 
Large scale demolition on Rose Street (Baltimore Sun)

On that latter point, it is important to understand that even though Baltimore lost a third of its population it lost only 10%of its households. This means we don't have one third of the housing stock as surplus but only at most 10%. Still, depending on whom one asks there are between 15,000 to 35,000 vacant houses and many are way beyond being habitable. 

I have designed the rehabilitation of many of those ruins and know they can be turned into beautiful homes of funds an an investor are available. With subsidies one usually can find also renters or buyers even in disinvested neighborhoods. 

Many of those vacants are no different than the expensive homes in Canton a, 15' wide, formstone and all. It is all a matter of money and location, which is to say it's not the rowhouses that is obsolete. If there is demand the rowhouses becomes a sought after form of living. 
Acres of grass after large scale demo in the EBDI phase 1 area
(photo ArchPlan)

In short, if we seriously want to repopulate our city we better don't demo too much or we will destroy our unique urban character. Grass lots don't add much value and there are only so many pocket parks that make sense as a community asset. Worst, most new construction of row homes rising in lieu of the demolished ones cannot architectural my  hold the candle to what came down.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The author was a design consultant  and architect of record for hundreds of rowhouse rehabilitations in East and West Baltimore and participated in rehabilitation of owner occupied rowhouses in the EBDI area as well as masterplanning for preservation of houses in the phase 2 area.

Sun Story

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Preserved rowhouse surround the new EBDi Community School (photo ArchPlan)

Residents watch demolition of a rowhouse in Remington on Miles Street
The rubble destroyed an adjacent community garden as well. (Sun photo)

demolition on Miles Street (Sun photo)

Graziano speaks at demolition on Miles Street (Sun photo)

demolition on Miles Street (Sun photo)

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