“Carpet Bombing” Again Threatens Cities

…and Suburbs are now also targets of opportunity, sometimes merely for existing despite the self-proclaimed “greater wisdom” of the urban planning gurus. 

The “Carpet Bombing” I am addressing is a particularly invasive form of “redevelopment” or “urban renewal” or “economic revitalization”, or “community enhancement” or the original “blight eradication”.  It is massive demolition of a block or many blocks of a city for redevelopment.  You may remember, “We had to destroy the village in order to safe it”.

Like Sheep to the Slaughter

Thomas Wolfe opined that American (USA) city planners (and by example those in other countries’ urban areas not affected by the tragic destruction of warfare) were jealous of their post-World War II peers in Europe and Asia who had actually inherited truly carpet bombed cities to replan and rebuild.  Legal, non-lethal mass urban renewal was the way for them to create the same “level playing field” in American cities. 

“Relocate those underperforming folks and wipe out the neighborhood in the name of greater public good” (i.e., “carpet bomb” the daylights – and the life – out of them).  “Refugees?  Of course!  What a great opportunity to create relocation programs, resettlement, again like that made necessary by war in Europe.  Then, absolute freedom to redesign the historic city into our progressive utopia! (i.e., We’re smarter than you are and you don’t fit our vision of reality”). 

"Boston Commons? No tax flow...Think of the revenue!"

"Boston Commons? No tax flow...Think of the revenue!"

Yes, my viewpoint regarding the process and results of the excesses of that system is quite a bit more than merely sarcastic.

You may have heard of even other, more salubrious names for the destruction of your neighborhood (residential or business) applied by “your elected leaders” (i.e., you are an accomplice and it’s you’re fault if things go wrong, people are hurt) often for economic benefit (read “tax revenue improvement”) on behalf of an already successful private company but often from out of town.  And, out of town is usually where a major share of the resultant benefit is destined. 

Lawsuits over “takings” and “eminent domain” have reached state and federal Supreme Courts and there are instances where enriching others with collateral expected enrichment of the community has been deemed legal and constitutional. 

Responses to Genuine Need

Assuredly, some buildings, blocks, “projects” or neighborhoods are obsolete, moribund or beyond resuscitation.  Much of the better work that addresses those problems involves adaptive reuse of as much of the infrastructure and buildings, with existing owner participation, as possible.  Those projects usually have as a goal the maintenance and true revitalization of the community fabric and economy, with as little disruption and as limited a scale as is possible.  Other work is necessitated in honest and true responses to the absolute need to address public health, safety and welfare.

Responses in Strong Communities

A strong community, including the one where I participated in leadership for many years, may have a Redevelopment Agency and define Redevelopment Areas, where “tax increment financing” reaps benefits for the “greater public good” when a renewal action results in an increased tax base.  Such a community also exceeds a contribution level of 20% of the new revenue increment to improve substandard housing (not bulldoze and replace where still viable, but assist owners to improve or build new affordable housing as infill or replacement on a small scale) and providing assistance to other affected agencies including public schools.  Such a contribution may be required by State law in that case, but is gladly provided and exceeded by that community to generate a positive collateral effect upon the community and help keep the down-side costs of “renewal” from burdening everyone else. 

Enticements – Aggressive Alliances?

Some communities give so many “enticements” to new businesses from out of town (or existing ones that threaten to leave without receiving public largess), such as marking the land value down to virtually nothing, or “forgiving” property taxes and use fees for many years (thus creating a non-competitive advantage  for those lucky people over “locals” who fight the good fight under the existing system for those lucky people), that the remainder of the community bears the burden without revitalization virtually forever, or until they become the next target for Carpet Bombing.

The most important action that my former community has taken is automatically excluding from a Redevelopment Area ANY landowner who does not want to be involved.  A self-excluding landowner may make an improvement project more difficult – or may be the actual seed for growing a better community by their remaining within it (what a concept!)! 

Mysteries Abound!

Isn’t it strange that the strategic planners advocating massive redevelopment always seem to miss the mansions, corporate headquarters and non-cultural governmental buildings!  Collateral damage?  Well, you know, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, they say, and you’re one of the eggs!  A natural follow-through to progressive “new enlightenment” thought.

The “carpet bombing” advocates brought St. Louis the Pruitt-Igoe project that rapidly became such a social, environmental and economic failure that, after years of abandonment, allowed them to “carpet bomb” the neighborhood once again – apparently a multi-generational legacy and annuity for redevelopment bureaucrats – their  joy that keeps on giving.  Yes, any plan and any project can have unintended consequences – good or bad.  The key for you and your community is a clear-eyed understanding and broadly-based community discussion that leads to encouragement of and support for community health measures that may involve its physical nature as well as the social, economic and environmental aspects of each community’s specific situation.

Call to Action

If that has not been occurring in your community, go to work now!  Respectfully but insistently engage with your neighbors in the community planning process.  Do not just go to play the tired “not in my backyard – I’ve got mine, you can’t have the same” game.  However, always remember the old saw…

Fooled me once, shame on you, fooled me twice, shame on me.

About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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