Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Debate at the Charrette Regarding North End Landmark

"Grouthaus," a real estate broker, has started a debate* over at the Nashville Charrette on the probable sale and demolition of Geist House, a century-old house and forge on Jefferson Street near Germantown. I met grouthaus one time over coffee at his request and had what seemed to be a reasonable discussion about development in Salemtown. However, online in the past and in this Geist House debate he comes across as an orthodox supplicant to some pie-in-the-sky free market system that has never really existed.

I really don't mind conservatives who are more pragmatic and argue that the market system (whether it's "free" is open to debate) is not great but it does some good things and it's probably the best we can hope for. But this other class of conservatives, the true marketeer believers who recite ingrown mantras to golden calves trying to get the rest of us to stay in the compound, are just too strident for me.

I think that it is particularly laughable and ironic that he's couching his argument for the freedom to demolish as some kind of moral defense of another person's "rights." Systems of money are amoral. And the market erases where it wills to do so irrespective of people or morals. Money may wipe away legacy in order to generate novelty or utility; oh, and it also lines the pockets or real estate brokers, who are individuals whose work is not to preserve or to restore or to steward, but to make money off of lining up buyers and sellers, like those of the Geist House. Grouthaus himself has advocated tearing down 95% of Salemtown, starting over while keeping us beholden to developers, and ending all neighborhood feedback regarding any future development plans for the neighborhood. Big money births such nuclear options.

I'm not going to suggest that money and markets cannot produce good. I consider myself more pragmatic. But they are not so salvific that they should operate totally free of any restraints or regulations. Likewise, with the sale of the Geist House.

*We find out in this debate that the Geist family petitioned to have their property removed from the recently passed Germantown Historic Overlay, which would have protected it from demolition.

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