WHATEVER legitimate disagreements exist about Baltimore's demolition program, one thing should be clear: A building isn't empty if a neighborhood anti-poverty program is operating inside it.
But apparently, that axiom isn't so clear to city housing officials, who were embarrassed last week after they knocked down a building that the South and Southeast Development Center was using for its food and clothing distribution program.
The city was supposed to tear down 13 N. Eden St. Instead, it demolished 13 S. Eden, where the program was housed.
"Oops!" hardly conveys the seriousness of what happened. Once a building is gone, it's gone, and for now, this blunder has left the social-services group without a site. The city should waste no time making good on its promise to find another location for the center.
The crew that toppled the wrong address had a semi-plausible explanation. Before any building is destroyed, the power must be shut off. The power was still on at unoccupied 13 N. Eden, because it shares an electrical trunk with an adjacent structure. Both electric and gas, however, were off at 13 S. Eden. It was exposed to the elements and a wall it shared with another building had crumbled.
The crew figured if it looked abandoned, it must be abandoned.
But does that sound like a smart way to conduct demolition? If crews are uncertain about a building's status, they should be required to get approval from a supervisor before they swing the wrecking ball?
The overall demolition program is also in need of a firmer plan. The empty lots left behind when buildings are knocked down are often as unsightly as the abandoned structures themselves.
Thankfully, both mayoral candidates and the City Council appear unanimous in a belief that this program -- after three years and 2,500 properties down -- needs clearer direction.