We recently observed the following exchange between an adult and a 2-year-old regarding a toy that the toddler broke:
Oh no, the toy is broken!
We have to un-break it!
I’m afraid that it can’t be unbroken. Sometimes when things get broken they just have to go away.
Toddler: Now we have to get a new one!
Adult: No, that’s not how it works. You can’t just get a new one when something breaks. You have other toys to play with, but this one is gone.
The toddler was not upset, per se, but rather perplexed. He stared, unblinking, at the adult, as if to say, What do you mean, it’s gone? Isn’t there an unlimited storehouse of cloned toys somewhere?
Leave it to us to immediately make an association between the broken toy and property development. Let’s be clear: we are in no way comparing any people, businesses, or industries to toddlers. We’re not touching that conversation with a ten-foot pole.
But here’s what we do know: we live in an age when we can get anything we want, any time. Toilet paper delivery at 2 a.m.? No problem. Need your car fixed? That’ll be ready in an hour. Out of stamps or craving Indian food? There’s an app for that.
This mentality of constant renewability and constant availability has created a culture that fails to grasp the idea that when something valuable is used up or disappears, it can’t necessarily come back.
Here’s where properties come in. Historic properties are one-of-a-kind. They exist until they don’t, and then they can’t be replaced. They can be copied —even via a close replica, but there is absolutely no substitution for the original property.
When a historic property is torn down, all the history is torn down with it. That history can never come back.
When someone eyes an historic property with intentions of building new, they tend to see what could be there, not what already is there.
The irony, of course, is that the trend toward adding historic or charming elements has builders putting in gothic arched windows, craftsman-style lighting, Victorian facades, and other features designed to evoke a bygone era.
So the cost of that new condo building or restaurant isn’t just the construction materials. It’s at the expense of history.
It represents the permanent end to the historic property, which may have stood for generations.
Even if the condo gets sold or the restaurant fails, we can’t go back to the historic property that was torn down in the first place.
You have other toys to play with, but this one is gone.
Food for thought.