When the Walls Come Tumbling Down

McMurray Musings

Theresa Wells, Connect Contributor

Pink, blue and mullet The news that the Twin Pine Motel will soon be demolished is a welcome announcement indeed for anyone who has ever taken a visitor to our community on a tour through town.

The Motel has been a blight on our downtown for several years now, the kind of place where you can actually feel yourself cringe when you drive past it. It is simply the latest in a long line of buildings that should have been torn down ages ago, much like the Penhorwood condominiums that stood stark and empty and bleak for years after the residents were evacuated in the middle of the night, leaving their possessions, their hopes and their dreams behind them.

If anything though the Twin Pine is visually slightly worse than the others, given the prominent location right beside the main artery through our community. When driving visitors through town I always considered asking them to close their eyes for a few moments, long enough for us to whiz past the boarded up, decrepit building that had always looked somewhat seedy, even during its final years of operation.

But we cannot close our eyes on our problems, as our blindness does not make them disappear. The Twin Pine has stood there, empty and attracting vandals, for a very long time, just as Penhorwood did. Vacant, abandoned buildings are almost guaranteed to attract trouble, and they have a strong visual impact on our downtowns, not just here but in every city. And the truth is that vacant, derelict and abandoned buildings aren’t simply a local phenomenon, but an issue in cities around the world.

You can find a lot of research about this issue, and about how the presence of these buildings indicates neighbourhoods or communities in distress. Many cities have had to develop special programs simply to deal with these kinds of abandoned buildings, as in some cities the vacancy rate can approach 40% of all buildings in a neighbourhood.

Some cities have developed strict codes designed to enforce building owners to deal with vacant buildings, while in some cities local grassroots organizations have sprung up to do everything from outright purchasing the properties to covertly removing graffiti and maintain exterior appearances (even when it meant these groups were trespassing to do so).

The reality is that these kinds of buildings have an impact not only on how outsiders view our community but on how we feel about it, too. There are those who argue the empty buildings are better than the vacant lot left when we tear these buildings down, but at least a vacant lot can be seen with promise and potential. A vacant and abandoned building can only be seen as demise, the loss of something that was once of value.

A fresh start – not a coat of paint covering up some graffiti, which is at best a “lipstick on a pig” approach to property management – is the only solution.

Tear down the abandoned building, clear the property, allow nature to take hold of it for a bit, and then work to ensure a new entity is prepared to come in and build something new and fresh.

Maybe it takes a few years for this to happen, but if those are years when we see less boarded-up, derelict buildings then I am all for it. I would far rather see empty lots with potential than empty buildings with nothing but broken down remnants of past promise.

The demolition of the Twin Pine Motel cannot come soon enough. No longer will I feel the need to explain its existence to visitors, or shudder when I see it standing there still. Soon the walls will come tumbling down, and the empty lot that will remain will be far easier to explain – and stomach – than the bleak motel that once stood there. And perhaps, in the near future, we will see a new foundation being built, and new promise and potential under way. This is the life cycle of cities, and just as there is a time to build there is a time to demolish – and the time to demolish the Twin Pine is, quite thankfully, now just ahead.