by Michael R. Allen
In the weeks leading up to PastForward, the 2014 National Preservation Conference, we've asked thought leaders to set the stage for this year's four tracks. In this post, Michael Allen, the director of the Preservation Research Office, addresses rightsizing, legacy cities, and real estate tools - topics that will be discussed during learning labs at the conference track titled preservationVENTURE. Michael will be a responder at the Thursday TrustLive. For more information on PastForward visit www.PastForward2014.org. For more on preservationVENTURE check out the reading list.
A city-owned row of flats on North Market Street in St. Louis' St. Louis Place neighborhood, outside of historic district boundaries. | Credit: Michael R. Allen/Preservation Research Office
Today, as historic preservationists delve into the realities of older American cities that have faced population and building loss, we find ourselves reaching—and transcending—our field’s own limits. Nowhere is this more evident than in our engagement with the methodology of “rightsizing,” which has found preservation advocates making the case for embracing some demolition. The converse of this bold new look at urban preservation means developing serious conservation strategies for vernacular building stock that might not come in the tidiest, architectural history textbook–friendly form. If we embrace demolition to save cities, we can’t neglect the preservation work needed for what remains.
That’s where our left hand smacks into our right. The National Register of Historic Places, the backbone of American preservation practice for nearly 50 years, looks more like an impediment than a helpmate for the new era of legacy city preservation. In some cases, it actually makes preservation of places important to people more difficult.
The major problem for legacy cities is that National Register listing is predicated on a building or district’s “integrity,” a status based on having a majority of seven aspects based on historic appearance. For a city like Boston or Savannah, finding districts that look as they did in an earlier time is a lot easier than finding the same in East St. Louis or Detroit. Fractured neighborhoods don’t stand a chance of becoming historic districts, no matter how hard communities push. The National Register privileges appearance over community will, public commemoration and economic value.... Read More →