Raleigh Needs a Deconstruction Ordinance
Whether one is a Raleigh native, a long-time resident, or a newcomer, everyone has their list of why this city is a great place to be. And that word keeps spreading, attracting new businesses, jobs, and people.
With growth, change is inevitable, but it is the quality and manner of change that matters. In my neighborhood over the past few years there has been considerable new development as well as substantial reinvestment in existing homes. Concurrently, there have also been numerous residences demolished.
Within a three quarter-mile radius of my home I can count at least 45 residences that were demolished in the past three-four years. While the new homes built added value to the neighborhood, what has been the economic, environmental, and social costs that came from sending the resultant residue to the landfill? As Raleigh aspires to be world-class and a leader in sustainable development, higher standards are in order.
There is a better option for managing our construction and demolition waste, one that is more economically, environmentally, and socially positive. When a residence will be removed, Raleigh should be encouraging (if not mandating) deconstruction rather than demolition. Why deconstruction?
Deconstruction, compared to mechanical demolition, is labor intensive. The Chicago-based Delta Institute reported that mechanical demolition of a 1,400 square foot house requires a crew of 2-3 workers, as opposed to 6-8 if that same structure were deconstructed. In a national survey of Build Reuse members in the deconstruction industry respondents specified that the total labor income (direct, indirect and induced) from deconstruction is nearly four times that of demolition. Reuse/refurbishment produces 300 jobs per 10,000 tons of waste compared to 1-6 jobs in the traditional landfilling/incineration process.
In the U.S. construction and demolition (C&D) debris accounts for approximately 30% of all solid waste produced. A Metro Vancouver study estimated that deconstruction can keep at least 80% of building material waste out of landfills, allowing for most building materials to be salvaged for either reuse or recycling.
A 2021 San Antonio report found that an average of $1.4 million in salvageable building materials go to San Antonio landfills annually, amounting to approximately 169,131 tons of debris over the past ten years. Demolitions in 2020 alone could have potentially salvaged structural framing for over six hundred 1,500 square foot houses. Those 45 houses that were demolished in my neighborhood were only a fraction of Raleigh’s C&D waste that was sent to our landfills. How much reusable lumber are we throwing away?
There are other economic impacts to be considered. In 2014, the Phoenix City Council approved funding to initiate the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network (RISN) to focus on waste reduction, the first circular economy incubator of its kind. As of June 2020, 19 companies have been created, 14 patents have been filed, and 15 products have been launched from the RISN Incubator.
Other cities see this value. This spring, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto issued an Executive Order to create a City-led deconstruction policy designed to, among other things, divert building materials from landfills and create job training opportunities.
Much of Raleigh’s expected new growth will occur within existing neighborhoods. If we must exchange existing housing for new, then at the least we should maximize our return by capturing the reusable materials, creating business and job opportunities, and minimizing waste to landfill. A world class city, and one that leads in sustainable development, would do no less.
Rodney Swink, past chair, Raleigh Planning Commission and current chair of the Board of Adjustment.