If you were to write down a list of reasons why abandoned and dilapidated buildings are a problem for your community, would it look something like this?
- “Can’t attract new businesses to blighted areas.”
- “Unsightliness – no curb appeal.”
- “Gives town a depressing feel to drive through.”
- “Negative psychological effect on locals.”
These are just some of the effects that the people of Whitesville say dilapidated properties have on life in their community.
I suspect they are sentiments echoed by people in many places around West Virginia; abandoned buildings left to decay in place are a blight that is a real problem in many cities and towns.
So, what are the challenges that are preventing West Virginians from being able to fix the problem?
- “Out-of-area owners.”
- “Ineffective enforcement.”
- “No incentive to act.”
- “Unrealistic property values.”
- “Property owners don’t want higher property taxes.”
Whitesville – a 2015 Turn This Town Around community – is one of nine communities in West Virginia receiving technical assistance support this year through a “BAD Buildings” grant from the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center at West Virginia University.
1. Do a local inventory.
2. Create a vision of what you want you town to be.
The problem of what to do with dilapidated buildings can be so large and overwhelming that it’s hard to know what can be done. So, where can communities like Whitesville start?
1. Do a local inventory. 2. Create a vision of what you want you town to be.
“This is an issue Whitesville has tried to confront in the past but we just ran into the proverbial brick wall,” says Kim Browning, a local leader of the Whitesville BAD Buildings team. “We have had our first meeting already and hopes are high. In that meeting the community as a whole discussed the problems BAD Buildings cause the town and problems in the way of fixing it. We also talked about what we as a community would like to see our town look like in 5 to 10 years from now. Our small town is in a unique position to make our town whatever we want it to be at this point.”
Kim told me that citizens are now taking photos of all the problem buildings in town, and trying to find out who the owners are. Once that step is complete, Whitesville will prioritize a list of buildings to work on based on urgency, and the cooperation of the owner.
“We don’t want to tear down or repair a building just for the sake of doing that,” she explains. “We need to find people who are interested in having a business or doing something in that building, and work toward making that happen. To restore with a purpose, if you will.”
That “sense of purpose” is what it is all about, really. Whatever the challenge in your community, bringing the citizens together to build and document a shared vision is a critical first step toward realizing that vision.
For now, it’s the basis that will allow the people of Whitesville to eventually transform the landscape of their town, one building at a time.