2312 Angier Avenue, looking northwest, 10.31.07.
I was going to use the county's impending demolition of the 500 block of East Main Street as an illustrative example of how we continue to undermine the economic future of Durham, but 2312 Angier Avenue will serve just as well. Doesn't anyone in the city or the county understand that tearing down historic commercial structures is THROWING AWAY MONEY FROM THE FEDERAL AND STATE GOVERNMENTS. Does this seem like a good idea when construction financing has become a scarcity? Why doesn't the failure of destroying historic structures to generate a single positive outcome, ever, in this city not fire up at least one questioning neuron in the brains of our local government? Why do so many people who trot out the destruction of Hayti as travesty repeat the same mistake?
East Durham over the past 5 years has been in the exact same situation that Hayti was in circa 1962. Our reaction? Exactly the same: Physical blight is a contagion that must be destroyed. We've destroyed large swaths of East Durham in the name of such misguided purification, with the utterly unfounded belief that clearing away old structures will bring economic development.
Repeat after me:
Demolition does not produce economic development. Historic structures are worth more economically than new construction due to tax credits. By destroying historic structures, you are creating a larger economic hurdle for a neighborhood to overcome than it faced previously.
Demolition does not stop criminal activity. While I agree that demolition of a historic structure tears away at the soul, criminals do not get saved when a vacant structure is torn down.
East-of-Downtown Durham has been a diamond in the rough for many years, at best unloved and at worst abused by a lack of economic investment. Over the past 5 years, the city has been determined to pay attention to what they term "NorthEastCentral Durham", and I'm not sure the cure isn't worse than the disease. This isn't horribly unusual, unfortunately, as it is the rare local government that doesn't come into a 'troubled' area swinging a sledgehammer rather than leveraging the considerable assets of that area to create real opportunities for economic development. Demolition and the persistence of the Mayor&Pals in seeking 'solutions' like the widening of Alston Avenue are destroying the assets of East Durham that might attract the economic investment that the area needs. At the same time, the seeds of that investment have been growing - not on the newly vacant land, but in the still-extant historic structures. But, by all means, we wouldn't want that trend to continue. People might actually open functioning businesses in those buildings, or we might create homeownership.
It's tiring to say the same things over and over again, but this website has two main purposes: 1) a historical architectural record for researching Durham's past and 2) a warning for those who believe that demolishing historic structures has ever benefited Durham. I hope I've achieved some measure of success at #1, because I'm not sure that #2 will serve as anything than an incredibly unhelpful, unproductive "I told you so."
Looking northwest, 09.28.09
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