Opinion: Landmark Districts Don’t Impede Progress

Brooklyn Heights, New York City (Photo by Emilio J. Santacoloma, Creative Commons license)

Brooklyn Heights, New York City (Photo by Emilio J. Santacoloma, Creative Commons license)

Real estate developers and others have long argued that the preservation of historic buildings and the creation of landmark districts can stand in the way of economic development. Not so, says Raanan Geberer in an opinion piece in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and you need only look so far as Brooklyn, he says.

Geberer argues against comments made earlier at a forum and reported in the newspaper. Kenneth Jackson, professor at Columbia University, was quoted as saying that “History is for losers…Boston and Philadelphia, Savannah and Charleston lost out keeping their gracious streets and their old buildings. New York is a world city–you want to live in a world city? You have to accept change.”

Nonsense, says Geberer. For one thing, Boston is a pretty vibrant city. For another, look at the 25 historic districts of Brooklyn.

Many of these districts are well known: Brooklyn Heights itself (the first in the city), Cobble Hill, various parts of Victorian Flatbush, Stuyvesant Heights, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. Some of them encompass fairly large areas. Others, such as the Borough Hall Skyscraper District, only consist of a few blocks or half-blocks.

The presence of these districts has been a draw for both residents and tourists. In a related commentary, Geberer notes the economic vitality that the borough has shown, as people flocked to Brooklyn, first for housing that was cheaper than that available in Manhattan, then for the vibrant businesses, restaurants, and nightlife.

No question, says Geberer, complying with landmark rules and regulations can be cumbersome, and the rules themselves sometimes even unreasonable. But by and large, he says, residents have led the move to have various neighborhoods designated as historic districts. And overall, he says, landmarking “has done far more good than harm.” Read more of Geberer’s arguments here.

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