Kacie Barnes (Galbraith)

“I usually drive by the properties, and give them a score on a scale from 1.1 to 1.9. It’s kind of like judging an ice skating competition.”

This is how Saint Louis City’s demolition specialist described the process of identifying vacant buildings for demolition during a meeting with Saint Louis housing and demolition employees.

Problem properties have long been an issue in Saint Louis, and preservationists question whether some buildings that get demolished are in that bad of condition.

Preservationists fear that knocking down existing houses that could be rehabbed speeds up the process of out-migration and neglect. Michael Allen, of the Preservation Research Office, says, “As many as half the buildings demolished in St. Louis were actually sound under the city’s building code.”

Is Allen’s assessment accurate? It’s hard to know. While the city’s demolition process involves ranking buildings on a scale to determine which are priorities for demolition, there is no specific criteria for each ranking. The demo specialist just drives by and conducts a quick assessment.

Let me be clear: I’m not accusing the demo specialist of doing a poor job. He could be an expert at determining a building’s condition, and only need a quick glance to make a decision.

But this method does leave the process open to influence. Without documenting criteria that determines the need for demolition, what prevents an alderman, developer, or other interested party from getting the buildings in his/her area to the top of the list? Or conversely, out-of-favor aldermen and developers could have high-priority buildings moved to the bottom of the list.

The City of Saint Louis could improve transparency and accountability to its citizens by implementing standards that determine demolition priorities. Or, better yet, make the process easier for private citizens to buy demo-ready properties and tear the building down themselves.

About the Author

Kacie Barnes (Galbraith)