From Blight to Phoenix Rising Why Demolition Makes Sense for Urban Revitalization

By Alexandra D’Ovidio

Like many American cities, Baltimore contains its share of neighborhoods where dilapidated and boarded up homes and businesses create more than just an eyesore. They contribute to what sociologists call the Broken Window Theory—the concept that if a window is broken and remains unrepaired, people will conclude no one cares and break more windows, further vandalize that building and crime will proliferate. Since the theory was first introduced in 1982 by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, numerous small towns and cities have used the theory to fight crime by repairing blight.

To combat the blight in Baltimore, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently announced a $700 million plan to demolish about 4,000 vacant properties in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, putting new development in place. Known as Project C.O.R.E (Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise), the demolition would take place over the next four years at a cost of $94 million. The leveled properties will first be turned into green space until the area decides on appropriate development.

There are currently more than 100 vacant buildings in East and West Baltimore alone, reports by The Baltimore Sun. In East Baltimore, one-third of the homes remain vacant. Under Project C.O.R.E, some 40 properties in East Baltimore are to be demolished on July 17.

According to Seema D. Iyer, director of real estate and economic development at the University of Baltimore Merrick School of Business, a neighborhood stops growing after 4 percent of its homes are vacant or abandoned. Iyer also oversees the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA), which focuses on community-based quality of life indicators. The demolition of vacant properties is one of three recommendations by the BNIA to improve the life of those in the most distressed parts of the city.

The small business community also heralds the Project C.O.R.E. plan to renew our city, erasing the temptation to crime and desperation harbored and mirrored in crumbling buildings with an invitation to creating a better tomorrow with buildings that provide decent, affordable housing, thriving small businesses, and resources for the local community. Removing these broken properties restores those around them, further helping those in the immediate community.

As an example, after Detroit undertook such demolition of its vacant and blighted properties, a study done by the Skillman Foundation and Rock Ventures found that each demolition in target areas increased the value of homes within 500 feet by 4.2 percent. Each occupied house increased in value by $3,600.

Demolition doesn’t mean community destruction. It means resurrection for a Baltimore to move forward into the 21st Century, through sensible development for all its citizens.