One of the major themes in the book revolves around the risks — and our tendency to overlook the risks — of the unintended consequences of the big ideas we come up with to try to make our communities better. As I’ve noted a bunch of times, including here and here, a huge number of the issues are communities face today aren’t just the side effects of economic or cultural trends. Far too often, our biggest challenge is undoing the damage caused by the unintended consequences of another generation’s massive interventions. Don’t believe me? Look at urban renewal.
I raised a bit of a stink at the Wise Economy Workshop a few weeks ago over the increasingly common strategy of mass demolition of vacant buildings. I wrote that piece because the logic and rhetoric I was hearing around these efforts — and the idea that somehow “The Market” will fix the problem is we just get the junk out of the way — sounded too much like the Magic Bullet thinking that led to a lot of the messes we’re still cleaning up today. Even though I don’t know myself how to fix the massive vacant buildings problem in so many cities, I felt that I had an obligation to raise that flag. But of course, people want a solution.
So this article on a new initiative in South Carolina definitely caught my attention. I don’t know any more about it than what you will read here, but it appears that this tax credit, which is modeled on the very successful federal income tax credit for rehabilitation of income-producing historic properties, could be a great new arrow in the quivver. Of course, this only addresses a subset of the total number of vacant buildings — private housing rehab probably doesn’t qualify unless the structure will be rented — but it could particularly help with the kinds of vacant commercial buildings that have such high visibility, and such an outsized impact on the public perception of many communities.
My friends at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Palmetto Trust appear to deserve extra-special kudos for broadening their view to the preservation of the fabric of communities, regardless of how pristine their architecture is, and for bringing a new and valuable skill set to the challenge of revitalizing older communities. I hope South Carolineans make huge use of this tax credit, and that we all start realizing that vacant buildings require a fine-grained, sophisticated and multi-strategy approach