Thoughts on the Destruction of Historic Buildings and Jason McDowell’s Research
By Olivia Lorber
As I read the OnMilwaukee article “These buildings were demolished for soulless surface parking spaces” by Jason McDowell, I started to pick up on how this article was written for more than just the sake of saying parking lots are not as pretty as historical architecture. Jason McDowell gives us this underlying message before we even get to see the first before and after photographs as he states “Here are some examples of where people and potential were pushed out for parking.” For most of the article, Jason speaks about how surface parking lots are not necessary considering how many parking structures exist and almost never reach full capacity. He goes on to say how early Milwaukee buildings are destroyed for bigger and better skyscrapers and the charm of the building is removed. But there is a lot more to be gathered from this article than just aesthetic downgrades. What Jason highlights about the forced removal of people from their homes and the destruction of loved historic sites that have existed in these local communities for years is about gentrification.
These parking lots are a lot more convenient for the new residents of the city. They need parking closer to their newly constructed apartments and for less cost than the structures that already exist here. Out with the old and in with the new does not benefit those who have lived in this city since the beginning of its development. Jason talks about the highway system and how it makes room for more and more cars but demolishes the parts of the city that were already here. This is a very negative consequence of newly constructed transportation systems that goes under the radar for a lot of people. You might think that another parking lot is a good thing, just like new apartments seem like a good thing. But these come at a greater cost that has wealthier populations in mind. Not for the good of the existing Milwaukee residents. The way that Jason writes is intelligent and articulated in a way that gets all kinds of people speaking about this issue. He calls out to artists, critiques unattractive aesthetics, nods to nostalgia, and acknowledges the people who have been pushed out of these neighborhoods because of these parking lots.
I have only lived in Milwaukee since 2018 and I have already been able to witness historic buildings get bulldozed and replaced by cookie-cutter lofts that cost an extreme amount of money per month to lease. These buildings drive up property values and diminish the ability to afford rent for the people who already live in these neighborhoods. I saw this in my hometown of Baltimore as well. Gentrification is no stranger to cities all across the country. Local diners that have existed before my grandparents were born were torn down and turned into a Starbucks. Bringing more traffic into these areas than ever before, harming the population who already live there. Jason McDowell uses his style of writing to cater to a wider audience than just the people affected by the cost of living increases, making more people pay attention to a growing issue.
Jason’s article reminds me of another OnMilwaukee article I read about the renovation and reopening of the historic Oriental Theater in Milwaukee. Rather than destroying it and building an AMC, a valued community center was restored and made more accessible. This is the importance of supporting existing communities and neighborhoods, rather than making them look prettier for wealthier groups to move in and push others out.