Archive for November, 2009


November 22, 2009

Y’all should be members of Preservation Forum, because then you get Preservation Forum magazine (go to which has the latest and greatest articles on preservation as a movement and a science.

We are used to thinking of preservation as a movement, an advocacy position, and indeed historically preservation was an odd position to take in the postwar world of “new is better.” Preservation was not only an advocacy position, it was a David-and-Goliath (or Don Quixote-and-Windmill) proposition in the era of urban renewal and even today preservationists can seem pretty powerless – witness the thoughtless and willful destruction of the Michael Reese Hospital campus in Chicago right now.

But preservation is increasingly a science. Since the 1980s we have touted the economic virtues of preservation as it creates heritage tourist destinations. For the same period of time we have touted the benefits of preservation tax incentives for developers. As early as the late 1970s, the preservation movement was thinking of preservation as an energy-saving device, and for a couple of years preservationists have touted the fact that buildings that exist are greener than those not built yet.

But in 2009 you need even more, because we are now in the wiki-world of cloud computing and data-driven nobody-in-silos-anymore webwise decisionmaking. Last summer I blogged about how the world now offers data for everything – and it would not only be reasonable but RESPONSIBLE for those about to demolish Michael Reese Hospital to count and quantfy their pollution, their contributions to landfill, and to tell us exactly WHEN the replacement buildings would be paying off their debt to the ozone layer. (See A Sustainable Proposal July 23, 2009 and Test The Proposal a day later)

But Preservation Forum is already on it. The current issue “Broadening Perspectives” features several excellent articles on the latest in the MOVEMENT, and it turns out the latest in the movement is all about economics and ecologics and their interplay. Check out this pull quote: “Density Data would tend to indicate that tax credit projects are reducing VMTs at a rate of between 30 and 40 percent.”

Cool. That isn’t simply the 1990s data we got on how preservation contributes twice as much per dollar invested to a local economy as highways and new construction, or how many billions in investment and jobs tax incentives have contributed. Nor is it the 2000s data on how historic buildings are more energy efficient ALREADY. It is both combined into a supercool algorithm. Investing tax incentives in preservation projects not only contributes to the economy, it helps the environment by reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled, since historic buildings are in already built-up, reasonably dense locations that are walkable or served by public transit.

In the state of Maryland, $1 billion was spent on tax credit preservation projects from 1996 to 2008. This obviously did a lot for jobs and taxes, etc. It also, according to the article by Evans Paull, meant a reduction in CO2 emissions of between 16,000 and 21,000 metric tons a year. $1 million in tax credits equals 100 metric tons of CO2 saved. Awesome.


Capitalism and Socialism

November 21, 2009

There is a lot of loose talk about socialism lately from the American minority, who started throwing the word around last year during the election. As in much political debate, it is an epithet not a definable thing, a signifier of something BAD. And since a full 20 years have passed since the demise of the Communist Party in Eastern Europe, there are many fewer checks and balances on the use of such terminology.

Ironically, the most socialist thing that ever happened in U.S. history was going on at the same time – virtual nationalization of the banking system, and it was undertaken by President George W. Bush, the epitome of the 25-year-long conservative free-market ascendancy in American politics. The same Bush administration added bananas, chocolate sauce and sprinkles to the ice cream sundae of Medicare. Medicare itself was described as socialism during its creation 45 years ago, and indeed all of the opposition arguments today match those leveled in 1964 and indeed a dozen years before when Truman first proposed national health care. Eliding this history, the word is still being bandied about as an unexamined epithet by opponents of President Obama and health care.

One hundred years ago progressive Republicans led a reform of American politics and society we now know as the Progressive Era. The enemy included socialists, who actually were a viable political force at that time. It also included trusts, which were ostensible capitalists who had turned their back on the free market by combining into virtual and actual monopolies. They operated much as socialized industries later did in communist countries – they set prices and wages, and they resisted change and innovation. The Progressives believed in capitalism, so they busted the trusts up and made them compete.

This is actually the same argument made by public option Democrats today in the health care debate – that insurance companies and drug companies are latter day trusts who set prices and resist competition. You can debate whether a “public option” will actually stimulate competition, but the fact remains some trusts need busting and the ONLY cost-cutting method they have right now is denial of coverage. Change is needed.

The irony here is that a century later Democrats are staking claim to “competition” and “capitalism” and “reform” that the Progressive Republicans owned a century ago. And today Republicans decry the public option as “socialism.” This confuses me, and here is why: I have never encountered a more socialistic industry than health care. No other business I deal with sends bills six months later. No other business I deal with has such bureaucracy, requires so much paperwork, takes so long to get a needed service. I want what test? I need a referral. And clearance from the insurer. Now there is a question. Wait another month.

Health care reform is socialism? How can this freakin’ industry possibly get any more socialistic than it already is? Sorry, but it is already turned up to 11 on the socialism meter.

(P.S. Tort reform! How can you compete when one knuckle-dragging lawyer can make anybody worth more dead than alive?)

The virtue of the free market is its ability to move quickly, to adapt to new conditions. The problem with lumbering socialistic beasts like GM and health care is they move too slow. Which brings us to the other great scourge of the no-longer-progressive-Republican agenda: climate change. They don’t want to endanger our already fragile economy (made fragile by Wall Street tricksters dancing beyond the margins) by trying to regulate or hinder industry. Give me a break. An industry that can’t handle massive change is a socialist industry. Soviet industries polluted tons more than their Western counterparts. Capitalism is for innovators, not mouth-breathers who “need” to pollute to create jobs.

Kelo Redux

November 15, 2009

Check this out:
The big 2005 Supreme Court case – Kelo v. City of New London – that underscored a city’s right to use eminent domain to take private property and give it to another private owner has reached a perhaps inevitable denouement: the City of New London, CT, took Susette Kelo’s house, and a bunch of others, for a private “urban village” to be built next to a new Pfizer development. Now Pfizer is leaving, and taking 1400 jobs with it. Yowch.

The real lesson here has less to do with eminent domain and more to do with economic development. Conservative justices voted against the city, but in a sense the use of eminent domain for private redevelopment has been with us since Berman v. Parker in 1954, which paved the way for urban renewal and preservation. Memory refresher: urban renewal was a public program, but it basically worked like this: the government declared an area “slum and blighted,” bought up all the land and gave it to another private developer to achieve the renewal. Yes, there were housing projects that were completely public, but the biggest part of urban renewal involved the same sort of eminent domain and transfer of property to another private owner we saw in New London.

After Kelo in 2005, 43 states passed laws limiting how eminent domain could be used, which makes sense from a strict constructionist viewpoint – the Constitution provided for eminent domain and just compensation for “public use.” As a preservationist who sees the preservation impulse as an attempt by communities to assert control over their destiny, I see the utility of Berman v. Parker. I think safeguards after Kelo are fine, but the REAL lesson this week is Don’t Give Away The Store to Anybody for economic development. New London not only condemned land, they gave Pfizer a ginormous property tax break. And now all of the jobs are gone. In less than eight years.

You can cut deals to get jobs and investment, but you have to make those GOOD deals and you have to remember that businesses are loyal to only one location, and that location is Wall Street and the street is thin-skinned, short-tempered, monstrously myopic and given to more emotional breakdowns than a 13-year old girl. You tear everything down and build it new for Mr. Sugar Daddy and then he ditches you. But of course he ditches you: you had no self respect, no desire to stand up for yourself and your character.

Now, REAL economic development is all about a community defining itself and attracting the right kind of business to fit into its character, including its built character. You develop a town by using its existing building stock and you have a long-term development plan that KEEPS ON WORKING. Mr. Sugar Daddy leaves but you still have your town and its character. You have to find another user for your buildings, but if you look for one that fits – rather than one who asks YOU to change everything about you for him – well, then you get a marriage that lasts, and keeps on giving.

New London has lost over a thousand jobs, and they have a big useless new building and a lot of vacant land. This is not a failure of property rights, it is a failure of short-sighted, dim-witted development. Develop with what you got and it lasts. Pave paradise for Mr. Sugar Daddy and you deserve what you get when he leaves.

Kenilworth: The Poorest Suburb?

November 14, 2009

On December 8, Christie’s is auctioning off 5 leaded glass Prairie School windows by George Washington Maher from the Kenilworth Club, Maher’s lovely 1906 building in the heart of what appears to be Chicago’s poorest suburb, Kenilworth. A year ago, Kenilworth defeated an attempt to list the historic community on the National Register of Historic Places, even though that designation has NO REGULATION over private owners. Last November, Kenilworth demonstrated a poverty of knowledge. This year, it is just plain poverty. The club decided – without comment – to sell off five windows for an estimated $20,000-$30,000 dollars. In the old days, that wouldn’t even buy you a bathroom upgrade in Kenilworth.

Apparently, the windows are extras stored in the basement, so none will be removed from the main building – although this information was NOT offered up by the club. Even so, this limits their options should a baseball game break out nearby. And that amount of money can’t buy the club very much time – you won’t keep the building going for very long at all by selling off its assets.

Wait! I’ve got it! It all makes sense now – they didn’t want National Register designation because they need a federal bailout for the Kenilworth Club and they don’t want to limit the federal government’s options for what it can do with the property! (Nice try, Vince, but if the feds were going to buy the club they would probably end up going through Section 106 anyway (Ed.))


November 17 update: According to a 2001 art glass conservation plan, some of the windows in storage were once installed in the building and moved during renovations. Moreover, it seems that restoration of the windows c.1980 involved extensive replacement of glass, which means that any of the windows in the building may contain replacement glass.

What I learned in Independence

November 6, 2009

I had the opportunity to be the keynote speaker for the Missouri state preservation conference yesterday, in the Truman Memorial Building in Independence, Missouri. Last night we saw the Truman museum which included a fabulous replica of the Oval Office and of course Truman’s “The Buck stops here” desk sign.
truman lib oval offS
I attended two sessions yesterday, one that taught me about the three major western trails that went through Independence (Santa Fe, California and Oregon) and another that dealt with BIMs, which are used for energy audits for historic buildings. Fascinating stuff. They model some of these historic buildings and find amazing things – like there is no sense insulating 3-foot thick walls or even double-glazing clerestories in lightly used space (You save more energy zoning the heating and cooling). It is nice that the metrics are finally here to demonstrate the energy efficiency of historic buildings.

I also learned that Independence was where Joseph Smith and the Mormons came before they went to Nauvoo, and there is a cool church built 17 years ago by the RLDS, one of several Mormon groups now separate from the Salt Lake Church.
mormon templebS
I also learned about the Truman historic district, an NHL designated in the 1970s and then followed by a locally-supported local district in the 1970s. President Harry S. Truman lived 64 of his 84 years in Independence, and walked around town every day he was there. This has become a symbol of the city’s heritage and historic district.
truman walk wayfdgS
Sadly, the district got eviscerated by local churches throwing elbows in the 1980s and is now a slender not quite sensical protected area within the larger NHL. I chatted with Jon Taylor, who has written a book about the three heritages (Truman, Mormons, Trails) of Independence. This is a nice place, and we also heard from Ken McLain, who has singlehandedly saved much of the courthouse square, despite the fact that it is outside the NHL and thus not eligible for tax credits. He even saved the Clinton drugstore where Truman worked as a teen.
clintons and wild abtS
Had a good time here- lots of challenges and history, and a lot of nice compliments about my talk. Now, a final image of the McCoy-Owens House.
mccoy owens frtlS
Thanks to Karen Bode Baxter, Trudy Faulkner, Kristen McSparren Otteson and all my other friends new and old in the KC – Independence area.

Green Preservation

November 4, 2009

Preservation is green. It retains the carbon footprint of structures that are already there, requires less materials, less expense of energy to construct – because it is already constructed. It is true that some older buildings (more likely those built 1940-2000) USE more energy than new “green” buildings, but the greenest new building will still take 30-40 years to pay off its carbon debt.

Two years ago, National Trust President Dick Moe made a speech at the National Building Museum about preservation and sustainability. It was epochal. He had the statistics that proved that “the greenest building is the one already built” but he wasn’t just preaching to the choir. He was making it known that there was a vibrant, multifaceted preservation movement, and that this movement was staking its claim to sustainability and moving even further in that direction.

The results are out there. Two sites you HAVE TO SEE are blogs linked at right: Barbara Campagna’s green preservation blog (Barbara is the Graham Gund architect of the National Trust) and Carla Bruni’s blog. Carla is a graduate of our Master’s program in Historic Preservation and she has already made a mark. We had her speaking on her work in New Orleans and now she is teaching a preservation class at the Center for Green Technology.

You can’t consume your way to sustainability, folks.

Back to Dick Moe. He announced his retirement this week, and it reminded me of that epochal speech two years ago and how excited I was that he was leading the National Trust and the preservation movement into the future. And it wasn’t the first time he had done it. During his 17 years at the helm, the National Trust reinvented itself from top to bottom. The Trust, founded 60 years ago to save historic houses, nearly doubled its collection of historic properties, but much more significantly, it broadened that collection to more nearly represent the American experience and American architecture. From the commercial Gaylord Building to Philip Johnson’s modernist Glass House to the Acoma Sky City Pueblo, the National Trust’s collection of historic sites has been revolutionized. Not only do we own the two most famous modern glass houses, we also have a new Modern and Recent Past Initiative, a new Preservation Green Lab in Seattle, a more vigorous series of regional offices and a robust collection of statewide and local partners. There are three times as many statewide preservation organizations today than there were in 1992. Dick Moe didn’t simply grow the Trust, he expanded its relevance and helped make it the leader of an expanding nationwide movement. His leadership will be missed but his impact is visible everywhere you look.