Death By A Thousand Cuts: Teardowns

Photo of house being torn down.  Source - National Trust for Historic Preservation website.  House not located in Raleigh.‘Teardown’ refers to the practice of destroying one house in order to build another.  This important issue has been prominent in the local Raleigh news this week.

1. WRAL TV hosted a discussion on ‘Headline Saturday’ yesterday.

2. The N&Ohas printed articles on teardowns, including one in today’s Sunday edition.

3. Raleigh’s 4th annual Neighborhood Exchange this weekend had a breakout session called ‘Infill! Refill! Overfill?’.

4. The City of Raleigh recently announced completion of the first phase of its analysis of neighborhood infill.  Spring of this year the City Council recognized the issue warranted attention and authorized a study.  Completion is scheduled for Summer 2008.  As I obtain details of the study, I’ll post them.

Tearing down a house is not always a bad thing, but the practice has grown into a significant problem.  Perfectly good homes are being destroyed.  However, the larger concern is many of them were historic, architecturally significant and irreplaceable.

All too often, the decision to tear down and replace a home is based purely on short-term financial gain.  Immediate consequences for the neighbors and long-term consequences for the neighborhood are ignored.  Sensitivity to neighborhood character and lifestyle is rare as the replacement houses are typically much larger and of different style than the surrounding homes.  Often they are spec houses built by developers who don’t live in the neighborhood.

The teardown trend has become epidemic on a national scale.  Raleigh’s historic neighborhoods (and perhaps a neighborhood near you) are threatened with extinction.  Death of one historic home at a time ultimately leads to death of the historic neighborhood which in turn affects the health of the city.

Raleigh was founded in 1792.  It’s one of the few cities in the US with interesting historic neighborhoods seamlessly blending into the downtown core.  Do we want future visitors to feel Raleigh was instead founded in 1972?  If so, keep tearing down historic homes, but don’t expect those visitors to come back a second time.

Obvious social, political, environmental and financial issues are woven into the teardown problem.  This topic will be revisited.