Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Might of Blight

Like porn, we know it when we see it, and we have plenty of it.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 11, 2012 at 2:33 PM

I live in an old neighborhood in Midtown. Nicer, more community-minded neighbors and prettier old homes and streets you will not find.

On Saturday night, there was a neighborhood progressive dinner, and, as often happens, the state of the neighborhood came up in conversations. What have you heard? What do you think? What do you know?

And what about blight?

Blight is tough as rusty nails, iron pipes wrapped in asbestos, and old concrete.

Blight, by definition, doesn't care.

Blight just is.

Blight is impossible to ignore, like Sears Crosstown in Midtown and the Sterick Building downtown. Blight gets a nice seat at the table or in the living room and just sits there and makes rude noises and doesn't say anything.

Blight can be cool, like the Tennessee Brewery, with a foundation stone that says 1890 and lots of black-and-white pictures of beer trucks in better days. Or the Sterick Building back in the days when men wore hats and drove Dodges and Oldsmobiles and Packards.

Blight can be a charmer, with nostalgic tales of the days when Dad and Grandpa and Mom used to live or work there.

Blight doesn't have to be old. The Horizon on the south end of the skyline is less than 10 years old and isn't even finished and has never been occupied.

Blight is connected. There are historic tax credits out there to fix up blighted properties. There are people who will buy and hold blight in hopes that someone will come along and buy them out. There are people of good will who will defend blighted property in the name of preservation.

Blight has all the time in the world.

Blight is hard to pin down. Owners change hands, live out of town, can't be reached, don't want to be reached, have phones that are disconnected, and the letters LLC after their name.

Blight is a freeloader, relying on good neighbors to pay the carrying costs by fixing up their places and paying taxes and mowing yards and planting trees and picking up trash and preserving some shred of value and hope in blight's own sorry self.

Blight is cynical, like a guy who comes up to you and says, "Hey, Mac, wanna buy a wallet cheap?"

Blight knows the game of catch-me-if-you-can.

Blight laughs at fines.

Blight would look good in a disaster movie about a cataclysmic earthquake in a fairly large Southern city on the Mississippi River with a $100 million demolition fund.

Blight can be invisible like that old spot on your couch that you have been living with so long that you ignore it.

Blight has good intentions and will get around to doing something next year when this, that, and the other fall in place.

Blight always needs more time.

Blight knows that bigger is better. Demolishing an old mule barn to build AutoZone Park is one thing, but demolishing a multistory building with enough concrete to fill a lake or build a pyramid is something else.

Blight hasn't lost a big one since Baptist Hospital on Union Avenue in the Medical Center was demolished in 2005.

Blight has friends and relies on them to clean up the mess someone else made and abandoned.

Blight is contagious as a bad cold in January and a street full of rotting roofs and broken windows.

Blight is expensive. Big Uglies cost too much to tear down, and they cost too much to fix up in the building era of seismic codes and ADA regulations.

Blight is us, from the downtown skyline to historic Midtown to battered Frayser to disposable suburbs.

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