Sunday, April 17, 2011

Of Heritage & Blight

So now there's one more thing New Orleans and Athens have in common: the demolition of historic structures that grace the cover of local popular culture offerings. In New Orleans, it is the Treme Shotgun Houses. In Athens, it is the Murmur Trestle.

The difference? Preservationists and conservationists have been working together in Athens for almost a decade to turn the famous bridge into a rails-to-trails project that would link East Athens and Oconee Hill with Downtown. They've even voted to increase their local sales tax to support the measure.

(That vote also included funding for a new jail, to point out another similarity.)

But in New Orleans, where sales taxes are already so high no one would vote for a voluntary increase, the Mayor made the call to go ahead and tear down the Treme Shotgun Houses - because it isn't fair to make people live in a neighborhood where that many houses are falling down.

I think that's a fair point. What isn't fair is when preservationists and private sponsors wait around for the final week to get into the house saving business. If someone had been working on those houses already, maybe they would have had the credibility to convince the city to save the structures. But as happens all to often in this city, the calls for action came too late.

Which is OK. There are plenty of blighted historic structures left around town for the preservationists and the Treme folks to invest in saving. Too bad we don't have something like this to jump start the process.

But that's the difference between "crisis-reactive" preservation and "working proactively" for preservation.

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