A few years back, home-improvement shows were devoted to stories of people trying to reduce clutter in their lives.
A viewer was left with the sense of peeking inside someone’s house and seeing mountains of debris. The thing that reeled you in wasn’t the mess but the emotional attachment that people had to all these old photos, newspaper clippings and mementos.
It was poignant, and kind of sad, to watch someone who couldn’t let go of the past, even if the present was a mess.
In St. Joseph, there’s no need to bother looking inside someone’s home. The mess is visible, from the curbside, for all to see.
The condition of abandoned property has long festered as a topic of concern in St. Joseph, but the problem often seems so big that no one knows where to start. Well, how about using a combination of federal and local funding to tear down up to 40 eyesores?
That’s what the city did last year and plans to pursue over the next 12 months, in what amounts to a new assault on abandoned, vacant and dangerous buildings. It’s a fight worth having.
In past years, St. Joseph normally demolished between 12 to 15 structures, a lower number that was blamed on restrictions tied to the use of federal demolition funds. A more aggressive stance comes as the city utilizes $100,000 from its own general fund for demolition purposes.
Clint Thompson, St. Joseph’s director of planning and community development, has stated that the city’s goal isn’t to reduce the historic building stock or to demolish first and ask questions later. That’s the right thing to say, but let’s hope that when push comes to shove city policymakers don’t become that person on the home-improvement show who won’t part with a cracked picture frame or a box of old buttons.
Waiting for a white knight to promise a costly redevelopment and actually deliver would be a fool’s bet when you’re sitting on a substantial sum that could make a true dent in the problem. Some of these white knights go by another name: absentee property owners.
Earlier this month, Cathedral of St. Joseph received public criticism for choosing to demolish a nearby vacant building, rather than sell at a higher price for possible rehabilitation. We would suggest officials at this church/school are no different from those in neighborhoods across St. Joseph who have tired of waiting for a knight and are instead ready to act now to eliminate blight and a risk of crime and fire.
You can’t hold on to the past and save everything. It’s time to make a discard pile and a keep pile. If we’re really being honest with ourselves, we all know which one should be larger.