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.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Historic Preservation: April 19th, the 50th anniversary of NYC's Landmark Preservation Law

Is being celebrated in a variety of ways by the Municipal Arts Society, New York City's leading civic organization addressing urban design in all its aspects.  According to the MAS "1,347 individual landmarks, 117 interior landmarks, and 10 scenic landmarks" have been protected because of the law.

The Jefferson Market building was saved by demolition by conversion to a public library.  It's an early example of a building saved as a result of historic preservation regulations in New York City.  Photographer unknown.

NYC's experience in landmarks preservation (an element distinct from but related to the creation and preservation of historic districts) is important nationally in how it has shaped the legality of local preservation law as one case, Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York (1978) 438 U.S. 104., to the Supreme Court, which ruled that local jurisdictions had the authority to include aesthetic matters within building regulations, including strictures against the demolition of buildings deemed historic.

-- New York Preservation Archive Project

The proposal for a Marcel Breuer-designed office building on top of Grand Central Station including a demolition of the interior and its rejection by the City Landmarks Preservation Commission set the stage for the Supreme Court ruling cited above.

MAS has created a landmarks preservation historical timeline webpage, which is a good model for citywide preservation organizations in other cities (although I'd prefer that each milestone would be clickable for more information).  In order to better support historic preservation, it's important that the history of the movement and how it has improved communities be regularly presented.

Tomorrow night there is a short symposium, Redefining Preservation for the 21st Century: A Symposium, which will be webcasted.  (There are too many people on the agenda for the 90 minute time frame, but if each person makes but one worthwhile point, it'll be worth it.)

Here's the line up:

Introductory Remarks
Susan Henshaw Jones, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York
Hon. Alicia Glen, NYC Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development
Hon. Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair and Commissioner of the Landmarks Preservation Commission

Roberta Brandes Gratz, Urban Critic and Journalist
Michael Kimmelman, New York Times Architecture Critic
Vishaan Chakrabarti, AIA, Partner, SHoP Architects and Professor, Columbia University
Claudette Brady, Founder of the Bedford Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation
Robert A. M. Stern, FAIA, Dean, School of Architecture, Yale University
Steven Spinola, President, Real Estate Board of New York
Adele Chatfield-Taylor (moderator), Former President and CEO of the American Academy in Rome

The symposium launches an exhibit, Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks, at the Museum of the City of New York, which will be up until September 13th.  (Separately, the Museum has a great exhibit on the history of protest and advocacy in the city, which includes a section on historic preservation.  See "Local history museums and critical analysis opportunities for communities.")

Other topics will be covered in other scheduled talks over the run of the exhibit.

Comparative analysis is of course useful, and won't really be a part of the presentations.  Note that a major difference between DC's local preservation law (passed in 1979) is that the final decisions (excepting in some situations judicial review) on what to protect are made not by political authorities (the Mayor/Executive Branch or the City Council/Legislative Branch) but by the Historic Preservation Review Board.

In most other cities, these decisions can become very political with decisions being made on non-historical grounds.  Or bodies, including NYC's Landmarks Preservation Commission, will chose to not designate buildings, knowing that economic and/or political factors would likely lead to the decision being overturned by the City Council.

DC is fortunate to not have such problems.

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