Preserve Buildings, Not Districts

The sad saga of the old Pennsylvania Station is nearly a half-century old, but its legacy continues—and rightly so. Every New Yorker should know this tale of woe, how an extraordinary piece of architecture was destroyed in the early 1960s to make way for an undistinguished office tower and sports arena.

The city’s landmarks preservation movement came about because of what happened to the old Penn Station. In the decades since, beautiful buildings have been spared the ravages of “progress” and entire blocks have been preserved thanks to the landmarking process.

The Bloomberg Administration has expanded on these preservation efforts by increasing the number of historic districts citywide from 64 to 107. Now, as the administration nears its end times, it wants to add or expand eight districts, which would affect more than 3,000 buildings.

Preservation of historic buildings clearly is important. Protection of an entire block often can add, not detract, from a neighborhood’s value. But the creation or expansion of entire districts places new burdens on developers in a city that already is a tough one in which to do business.

To be sure, the city’s preservation efforts are very important, and they have saved many an jewel from wanton destruction. But New York is a dynamic city—it always has been. Developers need to be assured that projects will not become encased in red tape. Preservation regulations save historic buildings, but they can also inhibit investment.

New efforts to preserve thousands of buildings must include a system to keep development costs down and minimize red tape. New York, after all, is not a museum. The city must be allowed to evolve, even as it preserves the best of its past.