Yes, Virginia, Historic Preservation for the Masses Exists

Playful architecture, Port Huron

A historic house of concern, located at 1440 Chestnut, Port Huron. It has an unusual and playful very wide and deep-set tower, which dwarfs the small bay window behind it. There is another home with these same surprising features in South Park, Port Huron.

Against the will of a huge amount of people and their community representatives, monied interests in Michigan are trying their darnedest to–for all intents and purposes–eliminate historic districts (Ellison 2016; Finegood 2016 (1); Finegood 2016 (2)).  So with this dark cloud looming, Stephanie Meeks’ “President’s Note” in the Spring 2016 issue of Preservation (Fighting Displacement) seemed like a sudden burst of sunshine.  To read the entire piece, click the previous link–it’s not a long read.  But here, let me give you some highlights.

For many Americans in cities, the biggest crisis now and in the foreseeable future is a dearth of affordable housing . . . Simply put, the rent is just too high. . . .  Fourteen cities around the country saw double-digit growth in rents last year.

There is sometimes a perception that preservation is driving excessive rents by making older neighborhoods more attractive to well-heeled outsiders, and by ostensibly limiting the housing supply. We have been heartened by recent research . . . that suggests instead that preservation supports existing residents across the economic spectrum . . .

One terrific example of this is in Macon, Georgia, where the Historic Macon Foundation has been renovating homes in the Beall’s Hill neighborhood. Historic Macon never displaces current landowners by acquiring occupied houses [displacement is happening in Michigan, where very nice old homes are being torn down to build “McMansions], and it counters displacement in other ways, such as building houses designed to be affordable for families and operating a robust historic tax credit consulting service.  [emphasis mine – this is a terrific idea]

Rather than exacerbating the crisis, creative adaptive reuse projects all over the country are expanding housing options and helping cities become more affordable.

I wonder what we can accomplish at the local level here in Port Huron, if we try?  Please contact me if you’d like to discuss the possibilities!  vicki@phahpa.org

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Problems with anti-historic district rhetoric

Below is a reprint of an article posted by Justin Davidson in the New York Magazine, Daily Intelligencer.  Please go to the article for further citations and the comments section.   I just want to add that a lot of the rhetoric revolves around ideas like:  wealthy people just want to keep their neighborhoods nice (who wouldn’t want that?) and high valued, but, we should be FOR higher density in our communities.  I support historic preservation for lots of reasons, and I’ve never been wealthy.  Historic preservation is about valuing quality materials and design, human scale and unique cultural environments.  It’s not about stopping progress or making our own history, but instead about keeping what’s of human value from our past.  I’m not for dense cookie-cutter communities made out of glorified cardboard, and I’m not for residents losing control of their communities in order that wealthy, powerful, corporate interests can do whatever they please.  I like what one commenter (JamieGlas) wrote:

“It depends.” This kind of nuance seems lost on the CityLab crowd that wants to impress you with Supreme Court decisions and grandiose “rhetorical blowtorches” that break down in almost any case study. There’s only a set of abstract pro-development rules. you kind of get that the authors position is a misguided political one not an architectural or social one. If quality is not a value we preserve, it won’t be a quality we value in future construction either.

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

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.

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