A sad article (one of many in recent years, I’m afraid) in the Clarion-Ledger about the thousands of abandoned houses in Jackson.
Jackson has more than 12,300 vacant houses among its 76,000 households, according to U.S. Census figures. The vacant number is more than the total number of houses in Clinton, at 10,677, or Brandon, at 7,919.
Many of Jackson’s problems emanate from these empty, blighted buildings. They fuel low property values and contribute to the city’s problems with drugs and violent crime. Last year, Jackson police pulled from the houses four people killed or dumped after being slain elsewhere.
Many of the buildings are not only empty but are deteriorating. The city has a list of more than 7,000 structures that fail to meet building codes, more than a third of which city officials have marked for demolition. Plotted on a map, they saturate the city, seeping into every corner while thoroughly clogging Midtown, downtown and west Jackson.
The structures contrast the positive image of Jackson that city leaders hope to impart – one of a thriving capital city with historic government buildings and impressive museums, theaters and restaurants. A city with thriving neighborhoods.
Jackson’s budget is too small for such a large problem. So each year, it chips away at the ever-growing demolition list. Between 2002 and 2007, the city tore down 704 buildings at about $1.68 million. But more than three times that number have been added to the list since.
Joe Lewis, who runs the city’s demolition program as head of the Community Improvement Division, said the city has to navigate politics and make tough decisions about which buildings need to come down. “It took decades for the city to get in the shape it’s in, and it will take years to get out of it,” he said.
Obviously, White Flight (and the more recent Black Flight) involves much larger issues than just preservation, but it’s constantly discouraging to me to see “Progress” defined in Jackson and other cities as “Demolition” and “Vacant Lots.”
I haven’t been to Detroit, but according to everything I hear and read, that once-great city has been tearing itself down for decades now, and for what? A post-apocalyptic city of blocks and blocks of vacant land? In the movement of populations, Detroit may have become an obsolete city, destined for a rise and fall. But Jackson is the capital of Mississippi–as long as there is government and business needing to be close to government, Jackson will have a reason for existence. Granted, there are houses that need to be torn down, but many of these older houses are made of quality materials–real wood, sturdy construction–which is more than you can say about the vast majority of new houses in the suburbs today.
We need leaders who have a vision to build the city up, not tear it down. We need new ideas about our urban places and a new generation willing to inhabit them.
And that, my friends, is the bottom line.