Monday, February 01, 2016

Bloomingdale: Should Historic Districts be a thing of the past? Or is that argument wrong and extreme?

Both Eckington and Bloomingdale are mulling neighborhood Historic District designation.  Note that there are no Historic Districts in Ward 5.

See the two articles below.  The first is an Atlantic/City Lab article by DC-based Kriston Capps.  The second article is in New York Magazine by Justin Davidson.

Click on the links to read the entire articles.

What say you, Bloomingdale ?

Why Historic Preservation Districts Should Be a Thing of the Past

GOP lawmakers in Midwestern states say such neighborhood designations infringe on homeowners’ rights. But really they stand in the way of affordable housing.

  • Historic preservation is a handy tool. Sometimes it’s the scalpel: a precise instrument for safeguarding the long-term cultural legacy of the built environment against the temporary whims of private interests. But other times it’s the ax: a melee weapon for defending the interests of homeowners. There’s one scenario in which historic preservation almost always serves as the latter.

    Certain buildings tend to be ideal candidates, categorically, for historic preservation. They are our churches, museums, theaters, libraries, and other civic and cultural buildings (parks and landscapes, too)—things that define a community. Historic preservation guarantees that these resources survive calamities like economic downturns, irresponsible stewards, and passing fads, as well as the biting passage of time.

    Houses, on the other hand, are often poor candidates for historic preservation. This may be a bitter pill to swallow for people who love residential architecture (as I do). Historic homes and neighborhoods can be immensely significant, culturally and architecturally. But houses belong to owners, and in the U.S., the tried-and-true way to build wealth is to acquire real estate. Historic homes, typically gorgeous single-family homes, are often powerful assets.

    So when local- and state-government bodies grant preservation status to historic districts—sometimes entire neighborhoods—they do not always simply protect culture, architecture, and history. Sometimes they also shore up wealth, status, and power.

    If there’s a market opportunity to build more and more affordable housing, then let’s take it. Yes, in Beacon Hill. Yes, in Logan Circle. Yes, among your Painted Ladies. There is a fate worse than ugly in housing, and that’s unfairness.

    The Atlantic’s Anti-Historic-District Argument Is Wrong and Extreme

    By Justin Davidson

    Over at The Atlantic’s urbanist magazine-in-a-magazine, CityLab, writer Kriston Capps turns a rhetorical blowtorch on the concept of the historic district, particularly in residential neighborhoods. Family homes don’t warrant protection, he argues, because, well, they’re homes, and people should be able to do what they want with them. Whole clusters of homes are even less deserving of protection, he argues, in a multipronged, bipartisan case — none of which I buy.

    Capps begins with the economic argument that regulation places an unfair, targeted burden on property owners. Some Republican legislators in the Midwest are trying to dilute protections for historic districts, and Capps quotes Wisconsin Republican state senator Frank Lasee: “How would you feel if you woke up one day and found your house subject to 40 pages of rules and regulations?” He then segues to a different economic point: that historic districts selectively shore up real-estate values. “When local- and state-government bodies grant preservation status to historic districts,” he writes, “they do not always simply protect culture, architecture, and history. Sometimes they also shore up wealth, status, and power.”


    Historic districts — like museums, libraries, archives, and any institution that nourishes collective memory — represent precisely the opposite point of view. History can’t always defend itself against momentary desires or the indifferent marketplace. That’s why we need to protect it with laws and a culture of respect. We will always have to keep debating where the proper boundaries lie between preservation and change, between cultivating the past and living in the present. But abandoning historic districts to the whims of buyers, sellers, and developers would be a form of cultural vandalism we would quickly come to regret.


    1. Both miss a key point: New edifices built in places like Beacon Hill and Logan Circle (and our own neighborhood) could hardly be called affordable. Fairness is NOT the issue.

    2. The night my boyfriend (now husband) moved into our house in Bloomingdale, we couldn't even get a pizza delivered. Now, we can walk a few blocks to pick up an artisanal version thereof.

      The house two doors down from ours is becoming a skyscraper. I'm sure the four (one per floor!) condo owners of 800 sq. ft. each will be happy to spend money in our neighborhood, after the half-million they pay for condos without parking. I can only gasp. It benefits me and my family of course, and I don't resent them at all. Without the newbies, there would be no Rustik, much less Pub & the People (or Boundary Stone or Red Hen or Windows or Aroi, or Firehouse, etc). There would still be Big Bear, but that has more to do with Stuart-as-a-force-of-nature and less to do with the rest of us.

      Gentrification is a force as well, not automatically bad, and often very good. The speed at which it occurs is arguably the heart of the matter.

      Is it fair or unfair? Or is it just what it is?

    3. BCC - Say Goodbye to your privacy and sunlight, you'll be living in the shadows soon. . . I'm sure that's not what you imagined could happen in an R4 zone. There are far more responsible ways to develop condos than converting single family homes.

      What say you to Historic Designation - YES YES YES, Please!

      1. vote below. share on social. forward to neighbors/friends. comment. make a stink.

    4. Hi Peter,

      If someone walks up to my door and asks me to sign up for Historic Designation, I would likely agree. I don't like the long shadows.

      However, my family was busy last week shoveling and salting sidewalks for our neighbors who can't do that for themselves any more. We're torn between enjoying the improvements, and caring for our neighbors who have lived here for decades/could use some neighborly assistance.

    5. Chime in here -
      Also on twitter(s) - @YoYopine & @garywmendel
      you can vote, comment, share.
      - gm
      Bloomingdale resident

    6. I am not a Bloomingdale resident but I would love for the neighborhood to become a historic district. The Victorian housing stock in the neighborhood is beautiful and would hate to see it disturbed by greedy developers and neglect.