The Attraction of Demolition

Recently in my city, the demolition of a long-vacant oceanfront highrise building began. The first strikes of the wrecking ball (actually not a ball — but a giant metal mouth perched on a multi-storey-long neck; it actually looked like a dinosaur) were attended by great fanfare: A tent with a microphone had been set up, where city and county leaders made rhapsodic speeches about what a great moment this was. Cheerful volunteers handed out cookies and (plastic) flutes of champagne. At least a couple hundred citizens were there, beaming and talking amongst themselves excitedly.

I may have been the only one there who didn’t share the exuberant mood. How was it, I wondered, that people could come together with so much excitement to watch a building get demolished? Why hadn’t anyone, during the last decade or so of the towering building’s vacancy, gotten excited enough to do something with the building instead of letting it rot?

It used to be a resort inn, and a few of the dignitaries and citizens shared nostalgic memories of honeymoons, family vacations back when the building was in its heyday.

The economics of real estate will probably always baffle me. But the fact is, there are and probably always will be property owners who are rich enough to let huge high-rise buildings on prime oceanfront land just sit until the only thing left to do is tear them down.

And, there may just be something in human nature (or maybe just USA human nature?) that’s irresistibly drawn to the spectacle of large mechanized equipment reducing a building to a heap of rubble.

I’ve heard people express just as much glee over the demolition of much smaller buildings too. The common theme, regardless of building size, is “Oh I’m so glad that eyesore is gone!”

But what gets built in its place? All too often, nothing. You get a longterm empty lot with an Ozymandias vibe: “… the lone and level sands stretched far away” [cue forlorn sound of whistling wind].

When I try to put myself in the mindset of people drawn to demolition, I guess I can understand. It’s a huge, powerful thing to watch. Maybe it makes humans feel vicariously mighty. Maybe, too, the big “fall down go boom” helps people discharge the little daily frustrations that pile up.

And this: Maybe demolition is attractive because it’s easier to tear something down than to create something. The creative process (at least for me — maybe for others too?) often comes with tension and anxiety and vulnerability. It can be easier to just point out eyesores and nuisances, and cheer at the wrecking ball, than put oneself out there and make something new.

I like to imagine that at least some of the materials will be able to be recycled. Also, on my walk home up the A1A, I noticed that a longstanding Mom & Pop hotel had put a sign up, urging people to help them save their cute little hotel from being condemned. If I hadn’t attended the demolition, I wouldn’t have seen the sign offering the public an opportunity to actually save a building. I joined their Facebook page and will do what I can to support them.

And, after all, destruction is part of nature too. We can’t just create stuff all the time; there wouldn’t be space or the demand for it.

That said, I took the day as a reminder to be sure and spend time creating things that I feel will be beneficial, rather than just opposing things I see as negative. As an environmentalist, I sometimes find myself getting stuck in “oppose” mode.

And, serendipitously, my email inbox and social-media feed suddenly served me up a bunch of tidbits related to creativity.

Further Exploration:

“Creating What We Don’t Want” ( “All thoughts are subtle creative energy. Some thoughts are more focused or repeated more often, gathering strength. Some are written down or spoken, giving them even greater power. Every thought we have is part of a process whereby we co-create our experience and our reality with the universe. When we use our creative energy unconsciously, we create what is commonly known as self-fulfilling prophecy. In essence, when we worry, we are repeatedly praying and lending our energy to the creation of something we don’t want.”

“Meet the TikTok stars using viral videos to save the planet” (Rosie Frost; “The idea for EcoTok emerged in July last year. … Since then it has expanded into a content creation ‘hype house’ with an ever evolving roster of around 20 different diverse contributors. … With more than 80 thousand followers and 1.2 million likes on the platform, EcoTok’s contributors have included the likes of marine biologist Carissa Cabrera, environmental justice advocate Isaias Hernandez and SciAll founder Mile Gil. They say that among their ranks you’ll find everything from scientists to students to activists and civil servants.”

“The Movement for Youth-Led Placemaking Is Growing Up” (Riva Kapoor; Project for Public Spaces — “For five weeks, 30 teenagers worked hard to imagine how outdoor public spaces would change if developers, designers, planners, and city agencies valued youth as stakeholders. With this in mind, participants visited DC parks and neighbourhoods and considered what makes a public space inclusive, accessible, and welcoming. … We also examined how young people can be discouraged from gathering in public spaces through unintended or intended design choices, such as metal work that prevents skate boarding, or posted signage banning loud music and loitering. We explored how feeling confident in a public space first requires feeling included.”

• Check out one of my new projects: I have transformed a corner of my yard into a cozy little nook with a couple of concrete benches where anyone can sit and rest.