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The Optimistic Futurist: Energizing local economies through Creative De-construction
by Francis P. Koster Ed. D.
In many older neighborhoods,
there are one or more houses or business that are abandoned or damaged and become the
kinds of places parents tell their kids to stay out of. Sometimes the buildings attract critters like
skunks, occasionally of the human variety.
Neighbors begin to petition for the building to be torn down or fixed
up. Often the building owner does not
have the money to do either, so the problem sits, and grows worse....broken
windows lead to water damage and mold, pipes freeze and leak, drywall is
ruined. All in all, a mess.
Still, the building contains
items of value - solid oak flooring, or kitchen cabinets, stair railing worn
smooth by generations of little bottoms defying their parents by sneaking a
slide down. Others might contain usable
toilets, sinks, generous sized tubs with fancy legs, light fixtures, maybe air
conditioning units or even the boards or
iron beams that make the frame of the building. Or they may have marble fireplaces or fancy mantles,
or reusable exterior bricks.
Often the city or county goes
through the expensive legal process of condemning the property, seizing title, and
then billing the taxpayer to knock it down and haul it to the landfill. A painful process for everyone which can
create a new pauper - the old building owner.
A step backward from an economic development standpoint .
A better route is use of Creative
De-Construction. The local government works
with the owner, and makes arrangements with an organization (the Creative De-Constructors)
to have them come and tear down the building.
The owner then donates the salvageable materials to the charity and gets
a tax deduction.
The Institute for Local Self
Reliance, a treasure of a national organization that educates communities on
successful models of local economic development, began working in the area of
Creative DeConstruction 14 years ago.
With the help of the Institute, several hundred communities have now
started their own programs. These
programs have been so successful that HUD now encourages the technique in
government funded neighborhood redevelopment and will fund help fund start ups
of new companies in this arena.
The hundreds of groups that operate
these programs confidentially state some rather surprising facts. First, the building owner often saves money,
rather than spending it to bulldoze the property. They get to keep their land. Second, In Portland, Oregon, the ReBuilding
Center has learned that De-Constructing a building created six to eight jobs
compared to standard demolition. Third, students
who volunteer to help learn a great deal about the building trades to the
benefit of everyone. Fourth, the availability
of recycled building materials often help other low income families realize
their home improvement dreams.
In some cases, for-profit companies
do the actual Creative De-Construction (not bulldozing), but partner in advance
with charities who accept the re-usable salvaged materials for resale. This allows the charity to maintain its focus
on its store without having to manage a construction company. A good example of this is The ReUse People,
a franchise system which has a location in Durham, North Carolina. They partner up with not-for-profits while
keeping a clear eye on their own bottom line.
Habitat for Humanity of
Charlotte's ReStore operation has a program where the owner of recyclable kitchen
cabinets can get a free professional opinion as to the merits and tax
implications of having the cabinets carefully removed and donated for resale.
Proceeds are recycled to help build more Habitat homes.
The North East Community
Action Corporation of St. Louis, Missouri has a nice De-Construction manual
describing detailed, experienced based comparisons of the cost and benefits to
the landlord of the De-Construct model.
In spite of this magnificent
track record, in many parts of the country the old ways still prevail. The Institute For Local Self Reliance
estimates that only one out of 250 abandon homes are deconstructed - the rest
are simply bulldozed at great expense. A
waste of waste.
Much of our nation,
particularly the older communities, is suffering both a loss of jobs and
hope. We can fix this by imitating
successful efforts of both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Sometimes it is not just physical property that
gets recycled and restored. With
leadership, we can recycle lives.
To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org
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- Francis P. Koster is a
member of the Rotary Club of Kannapolis.
- The opinions expressed in
this Make-up article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent
the opinions of Rotary eClub One and its editorial staff