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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 2:22 PM
eschaton eschaton is offline
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How should cities balance historic preservation and new development?

Riffing off of the discussion about Chicago, I wonder what people's opinions are about historic preservation more broadly. After all, while many "first-wave" urbanists lauded historic preservation in part because it helped to keep the fine-grained urbanism which Jane Jacobs lauded, in recent years it has often been used as one of many tools by NIMBYs to freeze neighborhoods in place at their current density levels.

My own feelings on the subject are somewhat mixed. I'll give you a local example to explain why.

A few years back, a developer wanted to knock down this church - which had been vacant for a few years - for a single-story, drive-through Starbucks. That corridor in Pittsburgh is sort of an odd place, in that it has many major apartment buildings (three 100-200 unit buildings have gone up in the last decade) but also a lot of autocentric businesses like fast food (the Wendy's just next to the church upgraded a few years back, there is a new Levin Mattress behind the church, etc). Regardless, the community rallied to save the church, and it is now a historic landmark. While I was certainly opposed to knocking down the church for a lame Starbucks, now even if a legitimately higher and better use comes along it will be very difficult for anything to be built there.

In general, it strikes me that we need a more nuanced discussion of when and where to preserve a historic structure. Knocking down a single-family home for a parking lot, or a bigger single family home does not result in a higher and better use for an area. Knocking down a single family home in part to clear land for a major multi-family development does. Indeed, sacrificing some homes for denser development may actually save others as single-family houses, stopping homes from being chopped up into apartments, or rented college-style by many roommates.

I think we also sometimes preserve historic structures when we do not need to, seeking to use the code for something other than was intended. For example, there was a (failed) effort to preserve this commercial area in Pittsburgh. The buildings obviously have no architectural merit - they are single-story warehouses with storefronts on the sidewalk. What the effort was really about is the area is seeing a lot of new development a few blocks away, with new office buildings and apartments being constructed which take up entire city blocks. Locals are worried that due to "gentrification" (not the right word, because the area had no residents) the old buildings will be bought out and replaced with new mixed-use buildings which don't have the same retail vitality on the first floor. The thing is, you could easily have a form-based zoning code which would require new taller buildings to subdivide the first floor retail. And preservation of the legacy small businesses could theoretically happen other ways.

Anyway, thoughts?
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 2:28 PM
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Churches are tough. Attendance is dropping and churches are either closing down or merging with other ones. Leaving behind a lot of empty buildings in their wake. Some are gems like that one in Pittsburgh, others are not. Problem is that a church building is kinda hard to reuse. Well, except for this option
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 2:39 PM
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Churches are tough. Attendance is dropping and churches are either closing down or merging with other ones. Leaving behind a lot of empty buildings in their wake. Some are gems like that one in Pittsburgh, others are not. Problem is that a church building is kinda hard to reuse. Well, except for this option
A lot of the churches in the South Side have been converted into small-scale multifamily. And one relatively close to our home was bought by a nonprofit and made into a community space. It's sort of odd though, because they keep trying to have to come up with ideas (ceramics classes, event rental, studio space available to artists, etc) in order to warrant continuing to exist.

Right now, there's a battle going on in Pittsburgh involving this church, which is in my old neighborhood. Years back a developer bought it with plans for adaptive reuse - apartment conversion for it and the nearby school and parish house. Local NIMBY's fought him on it for various reasons (racism because he was Nigerian, parking concerns, etc) and got the allowable unit count dropped to the point it was no longer feasible. He's now selling at a loss, but the new buyer wants him to demolish the church so they can build 40 or so new construction townhouses on site. It's a shame that the earlier adaptive reuse was foiled by the NIMBYs, but IMHO it's not really architecturally meritorious, and 40 (likely bland, unfortunately) new townhomes is a higher and better use now, so I don't support the last-ditch effort to get it declared a historic landmark.
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 3:08 PM
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Drive-throughs should never be allowed in urban places.

I'd preserve a lot of the urban-format old stuff. But in a city with growth pressures, I'd say that outside key historic districts and the best buildings, it's generally ok to redevelop if the replacement is a lot larger than what was there.

As for mid-century buildings, I'd be very limited in what's worth saving. This is a fundamental disconnect between much of the public and preservationists...for many of us, preservation is about pre-war styles and well-executed urbanity, not about preserving "examples," and we don't have as much affinity for midcentury styles.
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 3:19 PM
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Old churches are being converted into lofts.
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 3:21 PM
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As for mid-century buildings, I'd be very limited in what's worth saving. This is a fundamental disconnect between much of the public and preservationists...for many of us, preservation is about pre-war styles and well-executed urbanity, not about preserving "examples," and we don't have as much affinity for midcentury styles.
I agree. Honestly, to a large degree, I think preservation is important just because it's generally not economical to build structures which look "traditional" any longer. If it was affordable to build a more-or-less historically accurate "six-flat" style walkup to replace a family homes of the same vintage, I'd say clear out the dross right now.
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 3:25 PM
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I'm not feeling the townhome craze. Disposable architecture that destroyed so many historic buildings and they themselves will probably be on their last legs in 40-50 years.
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 3:37 PM
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Cities like Chicago have plenty of room to develop without destroying any historical buildings. Cities like San Francisco have a much harder time.

We need to be much more strict in preservation in this country and we need to offer more benefits to people who want to renovate and restore historical structures (which also proves to be very economically beneficial so it's a win-win).
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 3:39 PM
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I think the discussion of churches veered off a bit. Let me give you another local example.

This is a protected residential historic district here in Pittsburgh - Schenley Farms in Oakland. The houses are protected from zoning from subdivision. The houses are protected from demolition or remuddling via the historic district. The area has developed into a wealthy little enclave - the only house currently on the market is pending, and the asking price was $1.7 million, though smaller houses there can go more in the $600,000-$700,000 range (which is still very expensive for Pittsburgh).

The issue is, although it's uniquely remained a nice residential area in Oakland (which has otherwise turned into student slum) it's directly next to the University of Pittsburgh's upper campus. Some of the houses are directly across the street from a new midrise office building. Just two blocks away is a district occupied by mostly midrise apartment buildings.

Historically it was a popular area for professors (who could walk to work) but as real estate prices have escalated, it's become largely out of the reach of younger faculty. In effect the city is protecting the interests of about 150 rich families. The houses are handsome early 20th century architecture, but is that really the best use when the area is surrounded by a major university, office space, and multi-family housing?
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 3:48 PM
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If land/ space is the issue and the houses are perceived as an obstacle. There is a massive parking lot that could be utilized. Plus more here
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 3:53 PM
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There is a massive parking lot that could be utilized before even looking at those houses or other nearby land.
Yeah. That was the location of an important concert venue that was demolished back in 1991 - the Syria Mosque. It was named that because the Shriners built it, not because it was a real mosque. It's demolition actually kicked the local preservation community into higher gear.

The lot was used as surface parking by a local hospital for decades. University of Pittsburgh bought it in 2016. I'm sure they plan to build something on it in the next decade.
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 3:54 PM
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oregon city still has two of its oldest houses from 1845. they get rid of tunnels, a huge mansion and a building. the city im in now theres nothing old. it kinda sucks, id rather live in a brand new city with new ideas. who knows if that will happen

if you were wondering why there were tunnels in oc its so they could get beer in the bar because alcohol was illegal. small things like that are neet. now its sorta a boring town. there were streetcars all over. now theres two buses.

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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 5:26 PM
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If land/ space is the issue and the houses are perceived as an obstacle. There is a massive parking lot that could be utilized. Plus more here
Space really isn't that big of an issue in Oakland. Those lots are classic examples of large institutional land-banking.
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 5:33 PM
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Space really isn't that big of an issue in Oakland. Those lots are classic examples of large institutional land-banking.
I get the impression that Pitt/ UMPC/ Carnegie owns a lot of real estate in the area.
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 6:05 PM
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Riffing off of the discussion about Chicago, I wonder what people's opinions are about historic preservation more broadly. After all, while many "first-wave" urbanists lauded historic preservation in part because it helped to keep the fine-grained urbanism which Jane Jacobs lauded, in recent years it has often been used as one of many tools by NIMBYs to freeze neighborhoods in place at their current density levels.

My own feelings on the subject are somewhat mixed. I'll give you a local example to explain why.

A few years back, a developer wanted to knock down this church - which had been vacant for a few years - for a single-story, drive-through Starbucks. That corridor in Pittsburgh is sort of an odd place, in that it has many major apartment buildings (three 100-200 unit buildings have gone up in the last decade) but also a lot of autocentric businesses like fast food (the Wendy's just next to the church upgraded a few years back, there is a new Levin Mattress behind the church, etc). Regardless, the community rallied to save the church, and it is now a historic landmark. While I was certainly opposed to knocking down the church for a lame Starbucks, now even if a legitimately higher and better use comes along it will be very difficult for anything to be built there.

In general, it strikes me that we need a more nuanced discussion of when and where to preserve a historic structure. Knocking down a single-family home for a parking lot, or a bigger single family home does not result in a higher and better use for an area. Knocking down a single family home in part to clear land for a major multi-family development does. Indeed, sacrificing some homes for denser development may actually save others as single-family houses, stopping homes from being chopped up into apartments, or rented college-style by many roommates.

I think we also sometimes preserve historic structures when we do not need to, seeking to use the code for something other than was intended. For example, there was a (failed) effort to preserve this commercial area in Pittsburgh. The buildings obviously have no architectural merit - they are single-story warehouses with storefronts on the sidewalk. What the effort was really about is the area is seeing a lot of new development a few blocks away, with new office buildings and apartments being constructed which take up entire city blocks. Locals are worried that due to "gentrification" (not the right word, because the area had no residents) the old buildings will be bought out and replaced with new mixed-use buildings which don't have the same retail vitality on the first floor. The thing is, you could easily have a form-based zoning code which would require new taller buildings to subdivide the first floor retail. And preservation of the legacy small businesses could theoretically happen other ways.

Anyway, thoughts?
I always assumed that gentrification also applies to longtime businesses that are being displaced because of rising property values. In my opinion, a lavanderia or shoe repair place that leaves because their leases expired and to renew them would mean paying way more per month than they've been and then the businesses that replace them are an esoteric cheese shop and a $15 per milkshake milkshake bar = gentrification.

Regarding historic preservation, I also straddle the fence. Here in Los Angeles, people were up-in-arms over a Googie-styled diner from the 1950s that was gonna be knocked down for a much larger development, but the diner was saved. Also, the old LAPD headquarters (Parker Center) had some preservationists wanting to save it, even though in my opinion it's ugly and does nothing for the urban environment, but preservationists were saying it was a great example of mid-20th Century Modern architecture. It's been decided that it's gonna get knocked down, and I'm glad.

There have been a number of buildings along the Sunset Strip, too, that had preservationists angry over their demolitions recently, but in my opinion, many of those buildings weren't really all that significant from an architectural standpoint; many of them just hold sentimental value or pop-cultural value like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and whatever other old Hollywood celebs used to hang out there or whatever.

So yeah, preservation is tough.
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 6:27 PM
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Old churches are being converted into lofts.
yea some have also been turned into private homes. something of value is still lost, since the interior of these churches if often just as significant as the exterior. but given the choice, its still the best option. some of these are executed better than others









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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 6:38 PM
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I always assumed that gentrification also applies to longtime businesses that are being displaced because of rising property values. In my opinion, a lavanderia or shoe repair place that leaves because their leases expired and to renew them would mean paying way more per month than they've been and then the businesses that replace them are an esoteric cheese shop and a $15 per milkshake milkshake bar = gentrification.
You can make the argument I suppose that businesses can be gentrified, but really we need a different name for the process. My point was though the neighborhood had literally only 200 residents back in 2000 (600 in 2010 probably 2,000-3,000 today) so very few people have been displaced by all the new development.

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yea some have also been turned into private homes. something of value is still lost, since the interior of these churches if often just as significant as the exterior. but given the choice, its still the best option. some of these are executed better than others.
There's a small, not particularly nice one of these in my neighborhood. Honestly it's a pretty undistinguished small church, and considering it could fit at least four single-family homes at the normal neighborhood densities, I think it would have been better if it was demolished. Hopefully the owners subdivide the gigundo yard at least.

A nicer example up the hill from me in a more suburban neighborhood. This was bought by a couple from San Diego who use part of the complex as a personal art studio and music studio. It's kinda a shame though, because that area is super-suburban and could use something other than yet another single-family house.
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 7:03 PM
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[T8YXNYr3qsjgObiQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656"]A nicer example up the hill from me in a more suburban neighborhood[/URL]. This was bought by a couple from San Diego who use part of the complex as a personal art studio and music studio. It's kinda a shame though, because that area is super-suburban and could use something other than yet another single-family house.
Interesting tidbit of info about a place I often pass and wonder about.

Also, why is Stanton Heights just kinda weird? It's always been physically separated from other core neighborhoods and has a somewhat strange combination of 1920s to 1960s suburban homes in the city, but that by itself is not really all that odd for Pittsburgh. I just get a weird feeling there. I don't know, maybe I'm just the weird one.

I'm sure transplants from other neighborhoods are moving in now that adjacent Upper Lawrenceville is gentrifying though.
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 7:41 PM
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Cities like Chicago have plenty of room to develop without destroying any historical buildings. Cities like San Francisco have a much harder time.

We need to be much more strict in preservation in this country and we need to offer more benefits to people who want to renovate and restore historical structures (which also proves to be very economically beneficial so it's a win-win).
Depends on your definition of historical, The North One. Yes, Chicago does have certain areas that can certainly be developed without impacting much, if any, historical areas. But in much of the Northside (ie: basically from The Loop north and from Lake Michigan west several miles), along with certain parts of the South Side such as Hyde Park, there's not too much development room without some teardowns other than a few specific large parcels of land.

Teardowns are going to happen. I agree with everyone that historically significant structures should, of course, be protected from demolition. But it's inevitable that 100 year old buildings will be demolished sometimes for newer, denser structures.

Aaron (Glowrock)
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Old Posted Jun 14, 2018, 8:06 PM
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Interesting tidbit of info about a place I often pass and wonder about.

Also, why is Stanton Heights just kinda weird? It's always been physically separated from other core neighborhoods and has a somewhat strange combination of 1920s to 1960s suburban homes in the city, but that by itself is not really all that odd for Pittsburgh. I just get a weird feeling there. I don't know, maybe I'm just the weird one.

I'm sure transplants from other neighborhoods are moving in now that adjacent Upper Lawrenceville is gentrifying though.
The southern (now black) side of Stanton Heights was 95% undeveloped until the 1950s because it was first part of the Schenley estate, then a popular golf course. The northern half grew a bit more piecemeal, but there was very little there as late as the 1940 either, except close to Lawrenceville and directly on Stanton.

It's definitely gentrifying now though. Lots of millennial couples with dogs and babies buying houses.

Last edited by eschaton; Jun 14, 2018 at 8:38 PM.
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