Monday, November 14, 2005

Small Town, Big Town Preservation Conflicts

New York City's preservation community seems to be in relative decline:

The [New York Landmarks Preservation] commission's power to protect a building in virtual perpetuity - and its willingness to use that power - made it the most powerful such agency in the United States. Its chairmen were often willing to stand up to the mayor when they felt a principle was at stake.

The gradual shift away from those convictions had its seeds in the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970's, which spurred the rise of public-private partnerships with developers. Developers gained increasing power over how the city was shaped. Playing on the public's fear, many politicians argued that the only alternative was a descent into blight and crime. (Read the whole thing.)

Sound familiar?

This kind of conflict isn't all bad, though.

The tension between preservationists and developers is usually a sign of a city's underlying economic health. Places where nothing old has been torn down are often economically stagnant; the old buildings are there because nobody has the money to build something new.

But towns with no effective preservation can be homogenized and dull, lacking a sense of place, history, and identity.

The trick is to preserve architecture that's really good, significant, and place-making, while encouraging new buildings that themselves will be worth keeping around for a long time.

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