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Thread: Speaking of Historic Preservation

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Hceux's avatar
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    Speaking of Historic Preservation

    I'm just curious about what people feel about historic preservation. Is it an often ignored element in community development and/or economic development?

    Does this only work in cities that have old buildings? Is this a myth? I mean, can you do promote historic preservation in communities like ...oh, I don't know... the suburbs of Toronto, Silicon Valley, or etc.

  2. #2
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Some newer cities actually purchase old buildings to move to the community. Our city is currently considering a Historic Preservation Ordinance, even though there's only a couple of sites in the city limits. There's one particular land owner that wants to bring in old historic buildings to create an "Artisan's Village". I LOVE old houses and things like that. If I ever had the disposable income (yeah, wrong profession), I would enjoy buying and restoring old houses.

    You get enough historic buildings in one place and it can become a small tourist destination. You can also use overlay zoning districts, etc to create areas with the qualities of what you would consider a historic district.

    Keep in mind historic doesn't always mean old. Something can still be historically significant even if it's not that old. That's probably the definition we'll be using the most around here.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  3. #3
    Remember that "old" is a relative term.

    Our town has a very large historic district that dates from the 1920s and 30s - an old streetcar suburb that has retained most of its historic building.

    And they're talking about "preserving" some of the hideous 60s architecture downtown, just so that future generations have an idea of the types of buildings Mr. Brady was designing.

    I don't know if you're going to be able to generate any meaningful tourist income from these kinds of preservation activities, but they can help maintain the pleasant character of older neighborhoods, and help keep property values up.

  4. #4
    I think that historic preservation is great and can be done in newer and older communities. With that being said, I think that it goes way overboard in some cases. Residents will often seek historic designation on a a long-neglected building as a means to block the construction of an undisireable project, such as condominiums, apartments, or retail. I also think that historic preservation can screw homowners by giving power-hungry historic preservation committees too much power. I think that common sense needs to play a role in historic preservation.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    Originally posted by Repo Man
    I think that common sense needs to play a role in historic preservation.
    I wish. I have been to some committee meetings where people act so irrationally, I would consider them for mental treatment. IMHO people inevitably get too emotionally focused on the past and loose sight of the fact that depsite the historic significance the building, it will need to be functional in today's market to make it viable for investment.

  6. #6
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Originally posted by Repo Man
    I also think that historic preservation can screw homowners by giving power-hungry historic preservation committees too much power. I think that common sense needs to play a role in historic preservation.
    I'm dealing with that right now writing our proposed historic preservation ordinance. I thought about including a property owner approval for inclusion, but that could be used against the city if a developer buys the property with the intention of demolishing the old structure that wasn't previously designated. Since a historic district or landmark is considered an overlay district, the City COuncil still has to approve it. I may just have to trust political pressure to keep a Historic Commission in check. Oh well, it still has to go through three readings, so maybe they will sort it out.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Historic preservation can certainly be a key element of an economic development strategy. People will go out of their way to visit well-preserved downtowns, or will pay a premium for a vintage Victorian home.

    There has to be a balance. Sometimes a building's condition or configuration does not make conversion a potential, as is the case with one old mill I redeveloped. A part of the foundation wall was retained, though, to lend some historical perspective to the site. On the other hand, there is an individual I often do battle with who would like to tear down the entire downtown (1850's to 1920's) and just start over.

    I won the first battle over one building, as my board will be approving an RFP for an 1892 structure this afternoon. We left open the possibility of either rahabbing the existing building or constructing new, but establish minimum standards for either option.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Originally posted by lowlyplanner
    And they're talking about "preserving" some of the hideous 60s architecture downtown, just so that future generations have an idea of the types of buildings Mr. Brady was designing.
    Hey now, I like Mr. Brady's green tiled architecture!

    Actually our city is a bit schizophrenic with regard to historic preservation. On the one hand we have a reasonably effective HP Commission, but on the other hand, our fair city recently demolished several wonderful old buildings, including a 1910s Chicago-style high rise, to make way for a neo-classical library and courthouse.

    Personally, I love the details and soul that older buildings possess and am in the process of rehabbing a long neglected craftsman bungalow. There's something about new subdivisions that creep me out.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    The last community I worked for had a very good ordinance, and three districts dating back as far as 1865. They were enforcement Nazis and it drove me insane, as it would (to Cardinals point) stifle economic development. They didnt realize a more balanced approach could spur redevelopment.

    The City I'm in now is a lake oriented bedroom community. The oldest homes tend to be seasonal lake cottages on 40 foot wide lots, build between WW1 and WW2. They are systematically being raized to make room for McMansions with 60% FAR and 3 foot side yards.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Originally posted by Chet
    The City I'm in now is a lake oriented bedroom community. The oldest homes tend to be seasonal lake cottages on 40 foot wide lots, build between WW1 and WW2. They are systematically being raized to make room for McMansions with 60% FAR and 3 foot side yards.
    What a shame. Those cottages may have been small, but they, and the neighborhoods they created, had a great deal of charm. As a kid, I spent most of my summers in one.


  11. #11
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    Historic preservation is good for the economy and is one of the best economic development tools available. Neighborhoods with historic districts typically grow in value more than identical non-district neighborhoods.

    Heritage tourists tend to spend a lot more than non-heritage tourists, and they tend to stay longer than non heritage tourists.

    Historic rehabilitation returns much more to the community than new construction. Rehab uses a lot of local labor New construction uses more prefinished materials imported from other areas. The local labor tends to buy their materials locally and, of course, the buy lunch near the job. So preservation is good for local job creation. New construction creates many fewer jobs.

    An interesting study by the GSA indicates that the cost of heating, cooling, and maintening historic buildings is less than new buildings - largely because of better than average construction.

    The same study by the GSA indicated that most employees are happier in historic buildings than in new buildings (mainly in mid-size buildings).

    A key question is whether the building or district is "significant." Should people be able to see how people lived in 1840, or 1920, or 1960. If there are lots of exampes (e.g. a 1950's subdivision), preservation of one neighborhood may not be as important as preserving the last grist mill in the state.

    A lot of people are trying to use preservation as a way to keep out new development. That's not good because is ruins the basic reason for preservation.

    The preservation lunatics are right when they want to preserve a very significant historic building in its original form. You lose a piece of that building, and you lose the ability to tell its story. However they often use the same level of review for less significant buildings - giving preservation a bad name. You need the original windows in an 1850's store. You don't necessarily need them in a 1940's subdivision.

    End.

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