Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Demolishing the Language of Destruction

Goldcrest Brewery (Threatened?), Butler Street, MemphisWhen reading about the life and death struggles of beautiful buildings, I keep hearing the same phrases and kinds of phrases used to defend demolition.
  1. Phrase: "We'd like to save it"
    Best Used With: Lots of public opposition to the demolition.
    This is only noxious when used by people who control the outcome. For instance in a Nashville Tennessean article called History or Hindrance?, a real estate developer made the following statement:
    "The real decision is how old, how significant and how salvageable is the house? … A house with minimal historical significance may not justify being saved," he said. "You can't keep every house that has some age on it, in my opinion." [The developer in September 2005 had demolished Evergreen Place, whose original section was built in 1785, making it 11 years older than Tennessee. Some age on it]
    You save things from acts beyond your control -- you don't have to save them from yourself. The firefighters had to save the Lincoln-American Tower from flames, First Church have to save the shell from the aftermath of the fire, Memphis Heritage has to save buildings all over town from destructive types, but the owner of the Chisca doesn't have to save it. It's not going anywhere unless they destroy it. Evergreen Place survived 220 years without previous owners having to "save it". By saying "save it", the destroyers obscure the intent to destroy by passing it off as an act beyond their control. They don't have to save anything; do nothing and the building will still be there.
  2. Phrase: "It's too far gone"
    Best Used With: mention of water damage and vagrants.
    This is a phrase oft-used to justify demolition of an unoccupied or unused structure. We can bring structures back from near-death and even death, so a building is never too far gone. Now, it might be too far gone for what they want to pay. But since that sounds cheap and greedy, they don't say that. They say it's too far gone and hope we don't ask any questions.
  3. Phrase: "if possible" or "when possible"
    Best Used With: audiences ignorant of what "possible" means.
    As in, "Renovate and put historic structures back into use, when possible."[friggin' pdf alert!] Again, history has shown over and over and over again that it's always possible to revitalize structures. Always possible. Now, your financial resources may not be enough, or your financial projections may not justify the resources necessary, but don't say it's not possible. That makes it sound like you would have to break a law of physics to do otherwise. As with "would like to save it", demolition becomes an unfortunate but fated outcome, like tearfully euthanizing old incontinent Fluffy. It's more like hitting the gas when annoying Fluffy walks behind the car. Again, the fewer questions about Fluffy, the better.
  4. Phrase: "it would be easier just to tear it down"
    Best Used With: mention of water damage, antiquated electrical wiring and asbestos removal.
    A lot less euphemistic and honest than the other phrases. But do you plan to rebuild it like it is now (minus the asbestos)? If you do, that's not easier. If you don't, then of course it's easier! It's easier for builders to dig trenches in the back yard rather than adding indoor plumbing. It's easier to throw Grandma off the bridge than take care of her. The bottom-feeder calculus: it's easier, disease and capital murder and cities laid waste be damned! All acts of destruction are easier than their corresponding acts of creation.

Goldcrest 51 Beer Logo, Goldcrest Brewery, Butler Street, Memphis


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