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Historic Districts Reflect the City’s Diversity

Historic districts have been punching bags for some time now, blamed for the City’s lack of affordable housing and denounced as “elite.” The Conservancy commissioned a “just the facts” study of New York City’s historic districts looking at density, demographics, and income. It found that historic districts generally reflect the range of people and incomes in the communities that surround them. And many historic districts are as dense, or denser, than their surroundings.

Districts are also invariably described as “transit-rich.” The last administration used this argument to call for more, and larger, buildings within historic districts. Our study showed that 95% of the City’s land within a 10-minute walk of a subway is not covered by landmarks designation.

All the historic districts put together cover less than 5% of the City’s buildable land.

The report by BFJ Planning combined nearby historic districts and their extensions into “HD areas.” It offers an opportunity to examine data within each area. It also includes broader case studies of five historic districts: Mt. Morris Park in Harlem, Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Jackson Heights in Queens, and St. George/New Brighton in Staten Island.
The current study also confirms and expands upon, an earlier study we commissioned on the economic impact of historic districts by Place Economics.

Some other findings:

  • A third of historic districts are more diverse, or as diverse, as their surrounding communities.
  • Districts have become more diverse over the last 20 years as the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission has focused on areas outside Manhattan.
  • Slightly less than half the districts are more wealthy than the community district in which they are located.

We hope this data-driven report will help inform our elected officials. We also hope it will help you rebut continuing attacks on historic districts.

As we share this study with the new Administration and City Council Members, we will also note that historic districts are popular with residents. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has been working through a long list of neighborhoods seeking designation. Designation doesn’t include or exclude who can live in buildings. And commercial districts have been economic engines for the City, popular with local, mom and pop stores as well as tech companies.

The BFJ study was completed last summer on districts designated through 2018. Since then, the LPC has designated districts in Sunset Park and East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and in Harlem. These designations likely continue the trend of increasingly diverse Historic Districts.

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