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Demolition Decision Tree

Tool 1: Selecting Buildings For Demolition - Using a Decision Tree 

Physical Texture


Every neighborhood has a particular texture, made up of its buildings, their relationship to one another and to the spaces between them. In the best cases, found not only in historic neighborhoods, but also in many traditional neighborhoods in cities around the country, buildings and spaces form a harmonious whole or ensemble. The buildings are not identical, but they share enough common features to blend into a whole that “fits together” in an observer’s eyes. The balance between buildings and open spaces, which urban designers refer to as the “rhythm” of buildings and spaces (or solids and voids), also contributes to this feeling of appropriateness.

In many areas, however, the harmonious texture that once existed has been impaired or compromised, or in some cases, may never have truly existed. Buildings may have been demolished or destroyed over the years and replaced by incompatible buildings, such as a gas station in the middle of a Victorian-era shopping street, or a ranch house faced with aluminum siding in the middle of a block of large 1920s brick houses. Parking lots or used car dealerships may appear on vacant lots between clusters of row houses. In many parts of distressed older cities, so many houses have been abandoned and subsequently demolished that there is no residential texture left. There are many blocks in cities like Detroit or Buffalo where only a handful of houses remain, standing in a sea of vacant land.  


It is important to evaluate how demolishing a particular building will affect the texture of its block or area, because the quality of that texture is an important factor in the stability and revitalization potential of the block and neighborhood. In a largely abandoned area, this is not likely to be an issue. In areas which still have a distinctive texture, however, particularly where that texture is widely perceived as contributing significantly to the neighborhood’s quality, it becomes an important consideration. In such cases, despite the cost involved, stabilizing or “mothballing” vacant buildings for which a use is not currently available may be a source strategy. In order to address these issues, it is important to have a planner or urban designer and a historic preservation professional, as well as residents of the neighborhood involved in the demolition decision-making process.  


Demolition Decision Tree


decision tree



►Go to Tool 2: Setting Demolition Priorities.