Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Historic Preservation Tuesday: I don't understand the $1 million special program for Louisville, Kentucky

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has announced a special three-year program, utilizing Louisville, Kentucky as a test bed for new actions in historic preservation as a tool of urban revitalization.  See "National Trust for Historic Preservation to study Louisville" and "Saving 'character-rich' areas part of $1M effort" from the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Other than for a boost of publicity for a "movement" that is now seen as a more legalistic and regulatory function, I don't understand the need for a test bed for new actions as there is plenty of knowledge we already have, knowledge that may not be getting applied, but it's there, especially in Louisville, which has a wide variety of historic preservation activities, a robust historic district program, one of the best state level Main Street commercial district revitalization programs, etc.

The things we know:
  • preserving buildings is better than demolition
  • left to their own devices ("without design review") many people--encouraged by Home Depot, Lowes, shelter magazine, and television programming--will modify their houses in aesthetically challenged ways
  • historic district designation is a way to revalue residential properties and attract new residents
  • Main Street commercial district revitalization as a program to improve commercial districts and develop new businesses
  • adding housing to central business districts provides more customers for local businesses, increases tax revenues, and builds an advocacy contingent for community improvement
  • revolving funds are a good method to fund historic preservation efforts, especially for individuals and especially in weak real estate markets, where the cost of rehabilitation to historic standards is not borne out in significantly higher real estate values
  • federal, state and local preservation tax credits as a way to foster adaptive reuse of large buildings
  • maintaining the architectural character of buildings is an economic strategy, albeit sometimes expensive (thus deserving of tax credits or other incentives)
  • cultural-heritage tourism efforts as a way to promote tourism and local economic development
  • and the related concepts of the "cultural landscape" and heritage areas to organize, manage, and promote heritage interpretation and tourism
  • preservation organizations as a community building and organizing activity
  • historic buildings, especially in weak real estate markets, comprise a large portion of the stock of affordable housing therefore historic preservation can be an affordable housing strategy
  • maintaining older buildings is more sustainable for the most part economically and energy-wise compared to building new.
Elements that aren't strictly historic preservation but are important to combine with historic preservation revitalization strategies in order to generate greater impact:
  • mixing residential and certain types of commercial uses (office/retail, not usually industrial), having them in close proximity
  • integrating urban design and placemaking elements--placemaking isn't exactly an element of historic preservation planning, but typically communities built before 1940 especially in cities and towns have historical urban design elements that support both historic preservation and placemaking
  • promotion of sustainable transportation (walking, biking, transit) as a way to reduce dependence on auto-centric transportation
  • culture-knowledge district creation (see the work of John Montgomery, work on knowledge clusters by EURICUR, and the World Bank publication, The Economics of Uniqueness: Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Heritage Assets for Sustainable Development
According to the second LCJ article, the "new" program is going to do what we already know:
National preservationists will spend $1 million over the next three years to study Louisville, devising plans to help preserve smaller buildings in "character-rich" areas and neighborhoods and promote healthy, urban living. The city will become a "living lab" for testing new ideas. ...  
The five-year-old Green Lab, based in Seattle, also has studied Philadelphia and Baltimore, among other sites.. But this will be the first comprehensive study that will measure the impact of the lab team's efforts in one place, said Margaret O'Neal, the trust's senior manager for sustainable preservation. 
The team will work on strengthening Kentucky's historic tax credit program for rehabilitation work, increasing the demand for reuse of older buildings among the public, enhancing energy efficiency in small businesses in historic buildings, measuring and mapping data about job creation and bolstering a Louisville preservation fund used to rehab and resell older buildings. 
A main aim is to "paint preservation in a more positive, solutions-oriented light," O'Neal said.
About 11 years ago, the NTHP developed a program called the "Preservation Development Initiative," focused on neighborhoods but modeled after the Main Street program, funded by the Knight Foundation and implemented in cities where Knight-Ridder Newspapers had operations.  I guess it never moved out of the test phase, but I thought that some of the local efforts (such as in Miami, Duluth, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Macon) did some interesting work.  Why the program wasn't maintained is a good question.

Similarly, the book Changing Places, by former president of the NTHP Richard Moe, is an excellent explication of the value of historic preservation as a tool for urban improvement, as are the books The Living City and Cities: Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz--in fact, I recommend the latter book as the book that people should read if they're only going to read one book on urban revitalization.

A new edition of Changing Places could probably do more than a lot of other things.  And note that over the past couple years the NTHP has pretty much junked its publishing program, including its backlist of a great number of reports and manuals--now the items are really hard to find.

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At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

where HP has failed- and has failed miserably- is where they have allowed mixed use buildings to be turned into strictly residential usages. Another abject failure- the idea that any new additionto a historic building MUST appear modern to separate it out from the older historic part of a structure. This is absurd and ridiculous- and I for one see real HP as retaining the aesthetitc looks of a historic area - not destroying it with trash architecture. This is apparent on Capitol Hill where new additions to older buildings look like garbage. I hate this and am vehemently against this.

At 3:20 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

the second problem you identify can't be blamed on "local" preservationists. It is the result of historic preservation theory at the time of the creation of the regulations interpreting the National Historic Preservation Act, and codified in what are called the "Secretary of Interior Guidelines on Rehabilitation."

Others in the profession argue that there are two dimensions to context, the individual building, and the area, and that new discordant buildings tear at the fabric of overall context in ways that are damaging.

I will finally read the Stephen Semes book on the topic that I've been meaning to read for years.

At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as a tourist goin gto see a beautiful historic district- I do not want to see Mies van Der Rohe abominations stuck in between the old buildings just because some " expert" -which usually means art critic- procliams this to be essential. It ruins the entire effect. I do not care as much if the whole effect is less than "authentic" as much as it is aesthetically valid and to me these guidelines are atrocious and mistaken and worthless as a public housing project built in 1966. Lets dump this idiotic concept and try to promote the old style building crafts and art that goes into real architecture and less of the shitty Home depot Lowes crap that you yourself are against Richard. No amount of spohistry or justification in legal wording will make this idea any more valid or palatable. everyone I talk to who hears of this immediately is against it and wants to throw up. This idea is very typical of the backwards thinking/gestures of the old people dictatorship hegemony of people in the CHRS & comittee of 100.

At 11:03 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

FWIW, I am in favor of the approach promoted by Stephen Semes and others, that from a cultural landscape context sensitivity standpoint it's better to have new buildings fit in ("ape" the past) architecturally rather than to be incongruent.

At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

its also a good idea to keep the old building crafts alive- I see in Europe how beautifully they make their rooftops and yet here we just put junk on our leaking temporary roofs- all made of tarpaper ,plastic, or something flimsy- we just cannot make anything to last. Maybe this could help revive dormant skills /capabilities like this?


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