Urban Removal Redux

The Borderplex Community REIT legacy for El PasoDemolition in our urban core not only destroys historic buildings, it destroys any chance of revitalizing downtown.

What’s going to replace those old storefronts? Not lots of little shops. Not the interesting nooks that make downtowns vibrant. Not a Chinese noodle shop, or a watch repair joint, or a neighborhood bar, or a bookstore. More likely big box retail, or an office tower. Bastions against urban life. Castles. Monuments to segregation, not integration.

Most likely is that the vacant lots installed where those historic old buildings used to stand will persist as the real estate speculators wait for a renaissance that isn’t coming.

Maybe HACEP will buy them up to build public housing. And maybe, under the circumstances, that’s the best that could happen.

But that won’t happen. The developers would rather have downtown a burned out hull than relinquish it to the common man. That’s why they moved the bus stops away from San Jacinto Plaza and out to the southern edge, so the “poor” people won’t be clogging the sidewalks and congregating in the city center. But aren’t crowded sidewalks and people congregating exactly what you want for a vibrant downtown?

The New Urbanists talk about the fine grain of successful cities. They talk of small, walkable blocks of myriad storefronts. Of variety, of integrating not just uses, but classes. They talk about humanity. They realize that communities are built to the scale of pedestrians, and not to the scale of automobiles.

I know downtown had to change. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. I’m not even strictly against inefficiency. But why do something that’s never going to work?

Why pursue the impossible with so much unmerited enthusiasm?

4 comments

  1. I know everybody is going to jump on you for being negative, but this is one reader who agrees with your take on this situation. Downtown El Paso (we used to call it DTEP) is NOT going to be revitalized. Not now. Not next week, or next year, or next decade. People have been crying about trying to accomplish this as long as I can remember (and, I’ve lived here since 1970, when you could find things downtown like The Popular, J. C. Penney, drug stores, department stores, dress shops, and all kinds of retail establishments), but it hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen unless and until the revitalizers realize that people need certain things close to where they live, and if all they are thinking about are hotels, bars and restaurants, no one is going to want to live there! It is as simple as that! And, don’t forget parking! People want to park close to home, or better yet, at home.

    1. Downtowns are being revitalized all over the country. Revitalizing downtowns is a small industry. But they’re not being revitalized through the destruction of historic buildings. The best downtowns utilize the principles of New Urbanism to create walkable built environments where people interact. Downtowns with a sense of place and community. The local movers and shakers must have something else in mind.

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