Alteration of community character is the most conspicuous effect of teardowns. When interviewed, officials from several municipalities named this as the foremost criticism from their constituencies. However, while most communities oppose significant changes to character, few can agree on how to define character.
During the interviews, the most commonly identified attribute of character was housing size. According to one of the respondents, current single-family tastes have replaced "looking out" – or valuing large, scenic yards over capacious structures – with "building out" to the extent of the zoning code. Because generous zoning restrictions were often written in the era that favored larger setbacks, the effects of building out those parcels could not be seen until recently. Oak Park and Hinsdale were given as examples of this.
To others, specific architectural styles are central to character. Most of the neighborhoods impacted by teardowns are aging, affluent suburbs with buildings designed by notable architects. While few would argue that all maturing structures should be preserved, critics claim that teardowns often lack proper deliberation and that the replacement construction is insensitive to the aesthetics of the neighborhood. Also, the heightened commoditization of real estate that accompanies teardowns can spur a trend of "benign neglect," according to one preservation advocate: "…people say that ‘if the dirt is worth more than the building, why should I waste my time painting?'"
Aside from the effect that teardowns can have on the character of the built environment, their impacts often reach the natural and social ones as well. When demolitions occur in older neighborhoods, like those most affected by teardowns, they often take mature trees and plantings with them. Also, teardowns decrease the amount of affordable housing in a neighborhood, diminishing the socio-economic diversity that once defined the community.
How would you define the character of your community? What in your community is important to preserve? How would teardowns affect this?
Have teardowns affected the character of your community? If so, how?