Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dallas After Midnight

If developers have the absolute right to do whatever they want with their own property, then why demo "one of Dallas' hailed pieces of 1950s architecture" under cover of an early Sunday morning while all the neighbors--who were fighting a high-rise condo development--slept? Why not flaunt your absolute right in front of everyone in the light of day? Perhaps because developers' rights are not so absolute and neighborhoods and preservations have some rights themselves to determine the direction of the local community in which they also have stakes?

A Dallas Morning News writer responds and articulates the tension between development and preservation in that demo's wake:

The absentee owner — a Canada-based developer — surely recognized that quick demolition is the surest way to head off a protracted preservation battle.

Why jeopardize their investment when it’s so easy to circumvent the plodding pace of landmark studies and zoning boards? Bulldoze it fast, fade a little bad publicity, and people forget ....

I understand that property owners have rights, and that if we’re going to get the kind of urban redevelopment that cities crave, we’ve got to be willing to make concessions.

But it hurts to see another generation of architecture threatened, just because someone, somewhere, might be willing to pay a few dollars more for something else.

I hate to think of Dallas’ laid-back midcentury neighborhoods ravaged to make way for faux-Gothic monstrosities with four-car garages, or super-cool “mixed use” apartment blocks with an art-house cinema and a Starbucks on the ground floor.

And, boy, I hate to think of the day when “historic,” for Dallas, will refer to its unfortunately ample stock of ugly, inhospitable 1970s public buildings and vinyl-floored Nixon-era tract houses.

“Preservation” should mean more than maintaining a handful of museum pieces. It should, and can, mean placing a priority on combining history, utility and livability.

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