In a column we wrote a while back about the unintended consequences of well-meaning legislation, we highlighted one of the failures of the Endangered Species Act: in the lag time between when an animal’s habitat is announced to be under consideration for the E.S.A. and the protection actually goes into effect, landowners have incentive to prophylactically destroy the habitat. So if you own a few thousand wooded acres where, say, the red-cockaded woodpecker might like to settle down, it might be in your interest to clear-cut your land before the E.S.A. prohibits it. (Or you could just buy a whole bunch of woodpecker-deterring attack spiders.)
As Robin Pogrebin writes in The Times, the same dynamic plays out when a city’s landmarks-preservation commission announces that a certain neighborhood is being considered for protection: out come the bulldozers (or, less dramatically, the construction crews who’ll perform anti-historical renovations). Highlights:
At 178 Bleecker Street, part of a strip of 1861 houses that included Le Figaro Cafe and the top-floor studio of the author James Agee — where he wrote Let Us Now Praise Famous Men — the interior has been gutted, and the owner has obtained a permit to demolish the building. … “One of the frustrations is there is such a long period between proposing a district for designation, and the commission moving on it,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which made the proposal. “Inevitably a lot of properties are lost during that time period.”
Is such interim destruction merely the cost of doing government-protection business, or is there a way to prevent such unintended consequences?