Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sometimes demolition is the right choice

I obviously oppose demolishing historic buildings, and I also believe that most forgotten element of good neighborhood planning is not just mixed use but mixed age developments. However, I also think that there are many times when demolition is the right course of action.

The news that the AHA has received federal approval to tear down the last housing projects in the city is one of those times. It is worth quoting Renee Glover, CEO of the AHA:
"These approvals mean the end of the 73 years of housing projects in Atlanta. We have become the first major city in the nation to completely eradicate these areas of government-sponsored concentrated poverty, crime and low educational achievement."

Glover added that AHA remains focused on serving the housing needs of Atlanta's poorer citizens.

"In the 1930s, public housing was an amazingly far-sighted approach to the nation's critical shortage of housing," Glover said. "But in the 21st Century, a new approach is necessary -- one that integrates the families into the mainstream economy. Isolating poor families apart from the mainstream is wrong. The costs, financial, human, and social are staggering."
Obviously just tearing down the projects isn't itself a solution. We need better policies and programs to help displaced residents. But this is the start of improving lives for those who live there.

I'm more skeptical than I used to be about the positive impact of redistributing poverty across a metro region, but I still think that good urban planning and better Section 8 policies can go a long way to mitigating some of the negative externalities. At the end of the day, we have to get the level of poverty in the city as a whole down, and that means education and job training programs, as well as much better public schools.

I am bolstered by AHA studies do show that the majority of former project residences are happier in their new homes, although it is certainly valid to question to the biases of AHA studies on their own programs.

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