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.
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.