As recently reported in the Commercial, the Pine Bluff Inspection and Zoning Department has spent its 2012 budget for demolishing condemned houses and has asked the City Council to appropriate additional funds so that many more structures can be felled.

As recently reported in the Commercial, the Pine Bluff Inspection and Zoning Department has spent its 2012 budget for demolishing condemned houses and has asked the City Council to appropriate additional funds so that many more structures can be felled.

Inspection and Zoning Department Director Robert Tucker said the department has spent about $93,000 demolishing condemned houses so far this year. Tucker asked the City Council to allocate an additional $60,000 from undesignated funds to continue the work.

Perhaps it is counterintuitive that destruction would be a sign of progress, but in this case it is. Even the briefest pass through many Pine Bluff neighborhoods would reveal houses long-abandoned and in need of demolition. Indeed, these nuisance structures are incubators for all manner of crime and undesirable activity.

Tucker brought the proposed budget adjustment before the City Council Development and Planning Committee on Tuesday. Committee Chairman George Stepps said he will be recommending approval of the budget adjustment when it comes before the full council at its Monday, June 4, meeting.

“We’re trying to remove as many of those houses as we can,” Stepps said, acknowledging it is a topic he frequently hears about from his constituents. “I’m going to recommend the appropriating be given to that department. It won’t get them all, but it will put a dent in the problem.”

To gain a sense of the magnitude, Tucker said, the $93,000 (2012) budget allowed the city to tear down 35 houses. The number of structures on the city’s condemned list is 425. But while the local count of condemned (and therefore potentially destructible houses) is at 425, the U. S. Census for 2010 estimates that the true number of uninhabitable, abandoned and otherwise blighted or vacant structures may be much higher.

As reported, the population of Pine Bluff has declined steadily for several years (approximately 600 persons per year on average over the period 2000-2010). Collateral to that decline, local housing stock has deteriorated markedly. What results is a sea of city blocks dotted with long-vacant, overgrown houses. As the weeds grow, the rooflines sink and the public disenchantment swells. Even in the face of many indisputably good developments and glimmers of rising prosperity, such a pock-marked landscape looks like a town trying to die. In years past, city officials chose to cut demolition budgets rather than increase them. As a consequence, little was ever done.

Fortunately, Inspection and Zoning is now under the capable lead of Tucker, who has the benefit of considerable education and experience relevant to these matters. Moreover, his staff are now tasked with the identification and processing of nuisance complaints.

Pine Bluff should learn what so many other cities already know: methodical, well-supported zoning and inspections is a critical to civic vitality as the police and fire departments. Well-regulated development and maintenance reflect the kind of town we want and the extent of blight we will tolerate. We only hope that the rest of the city council will heed Tucker’s call and give him the resources to make Pine Bluff better.