I’m sure this number will jump out at you, too: “The U.S. reached a record high of 7.4 million abandoned homes in 2012.”
Homelessness and a housing crisis, and yet …
There is much to think about in this essay. Obviously “domicology” is a practice that must take hold on the front end of the building process; it will be decades down the road before the real benefits are felt.
(cue the symphony of nail guns on the matchstick construction)
Domicology: A new way to fight blight before buildings are even constructed, by Rex LaMore, George H. Berghorn and M.G. Matt Syal (The Conversation)
Detroit has been demolishing about 200 vacant houses per week since December 2014, with a goal to take down 6,000 houses in one year. Much of the demolition work is concentrated in about 20 neighborhoods where the blight removal is projected to have immediate positive effects of improving remaining property values and clearing land for future development.
While Detroit may be an extreme example, economic decline, disinvestment, racial segregation and natural and human-made disasters have left other American communities with unprecedented amounts of structural debris, abandonment and blight, too.
As scholars who focus on understanding the complex circumstances that have led to blight, we also have some ideas about potential solutions that could prevent this cycle the next time around.
We’ve coined the term domicology to describe our study of the life cycles of the built environment. It examines the continuum from the planning, design and construction stages through to the end of use, abandonment and deconstruction or reuse of structures.
Domicology recognizes the cyclical nature of the built environment. Ultimately we’re imagining a world where no building has to be demolished. Structures will be designed with the idea that once they reach the end of their usefulness, they can be deconstructed with the valuable components repurposed or recycled.
Thinking about the end at the beginning
The U.S. reached a record high of 7.4 million abandoned homes in 2012. When people leave homes, the local commercial economy falters, resulting in commercial abandonment as well. The social, environmental and economic consequences disproportionately affect already struggling communities. Abandoned buildings contribute to lower property values and are associated with higher rates of crime and unemployment. Due to the scale of the problem, local governments are often unable to allocate enough resources to remove blighted structures.
All human-made structures have a life cycle, but rarely do people embrace this reality at the time of construction. The development community gives little thought to the end of life of a structure, in large part because the costs of demolition or deconstruction are passed on to some future public or private entity.
Currently, publicly financed demolition and landfilling are the most frequent methods used to remove abandoned structures, but these practices generate a huge amount of material waste. Upwards of 300,000 houses are demolished annually, which generates 169.1 million tons of construction and demolition debris – about 22 percent of the U.S. solid waste stream.
Here’s where a shift to a new domicology mindset can help. Unlike demolition, deconstruction is a sustainable approach to systematically disassembling buildings, which can result in up to 95 percent material reuse and recycling …