Thursday, March 26, 2015

Urban Renewal vs. Historic Preservation: Title, Thesis, Introduction and Brief History

Urban Renewal vs. Historic Preservation

John Vodochodsky

March 26, 2015

I. Thesis and Introduction

         When it comes to urban redevelopment and historic preservation there can be and shall be a balance between the two, not all old buildings have historic value and therefore can be or shall be saved and not all new buildings should be built in place of historic or old buildings.

          Urban renewal and historic preservation is not a new concept. Mankind has been tearing down old buildings for new construction and re-purposing old structures since the first building was built. Mankind has also been forcing the relocation of people when it was thought necessary to make room for progress. The Roman’s did so during the rule of their empire, the white man did so when they settled the north american continent and the Nazi’s did so during WWII. It came to be realized there is a more civilized way of urban redevelopment and historic preservation but the road to the two working well together has not been an easy one. Even in the 21st Century there are extremists on both sides of the argument when it comes to urban development and historic preservation.

II. Brief History

          Four years after World War II, in 1949 the Housing Act was passed as part of President Harry Truman’s program of domestic legislation.  The new housing act opened the door for urban expansion, urban renewal and the construction of public housing projects all across the United States. The 1949 legislation was updated in 1954. What was not known at the time is how detrimental this was going to be for the historic urban centers of America. This act won the support of city officials, professional urban planners, downtown retailers, bankers, corporations, realtors and other businessmen who had an interest in the real estate and economic growth of the urban centers.The act intervened in the reform movement and used public subsidies along with private capital to clear the slums and rehouse the poor in public housing. The advocates of the housing act legally used what became known as eminent domain to take over an area and property. The housing act was not fast moving. While the intentions were good because it cleared the urban centers of blight, created improvements and gave less fortunate people a place to live it opened the door to the destruction of buildings and structures designed and created by architects such as Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and William L. Steele. Many of these buildings and structures could have been restored, renovated and re-purposed into another function, such as public housing. While it started in 1949, much of the redevelopment occurred from the 1960’s into the early to mid 1970’s. In 1966 one of the first, if not the first historic preservation plan and ordinance in a major city was adopted to protect the historic landmarks from destruction. The 1960’s also saw the creation of the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1970’s President Nixon defunded much of the federal money available for urban renewal. He thought it should be left up to the individual cities to pay for and govern themselves in their own urban renewal efforts. This had a positive side effect on slowing down urban renewal and helping to prevent historic buildings from being razed with public funds. Around this same time is when Tax Incremental Financing was adopted. In a way it too the place of urban renewal funding. By the 1980’s it was realizes sustainability was important and to help sustain the urban centers of the United States a lot of cities started a strong effort of saving the historic buildings, renovating and re-purposing them. In the 1990’s more and more communities adopted historic preservation plans and ordinances to protect the historic structures. In the 21st Century preservationists and urban developers have realized they need to work together to achieve their goals.

Previous articles in the series: