Blinded by the Blight
George Orwell famously warned about the use of political terminology to obscure meaning, rather than to reveal or enlighten. It’s a problem that continues today, as I was reminded by an article in the Springfield News-Leader:
Commercial Street business owners are working to improve that area’s image but to get needed tax help, they may have to put up with the label "blighted."
Mike MacPherson, senior planner with the city of Springfield, supports using tax-increment financing available only to areas officially designated as "blighted" to pay for changes on Commercial such as more parking and outdoor stages. TIF uses tax revenue collected from new development to fund projects beneficial to the public in those areas.
MacPherson said Commercial Street is blighted under any definition. About half the buildings on the street are vacant. Most are deteriorating.
But the ominous-sounding label does not mean supporters are wrong to say Commercial Street conditions are improving, according to MacPherson.
An area in which things are improving is labeled as blighted. A quick look at any dictionary will reveal definitions for "blight" such as these: "something that frustrates plans or hopes," "something that impairs or destroys," or "a deteriorated condition." If the vacant buildings on Commercial Street were gradually destroying the area, making things continually worse over time, the area could be called blighted. But even if there are negative aspects, an area can’t be called blighted if it’s improving despite them. That’s the opposite of blight.
The article continues:
Lyle Foster, owner of Big Momma’s Coffee and Espresso Bar at 217 E. Commercial, has worked to change negative perceptions about the street.
At a recent news conference, he listed a number of improvements made in the last two years: over $4 million in investment, "green" building initiatives, 25 lofts now under development and 40 lofts completed and occupied.
This is the sort of development that actual blighted areas would never see. The term is also being misapplied right here in Clayton, as David Stokes noted last week.
It’s an abuse of language to look at a healthy, thriving area and call it "blighted" just because it’s not doing quite as well as you think it could under different ownership. Using that terminology to obscure truth and then take people’s property through eminent domain provisions is an abuse of justice.