Real Estate interests have waged false campaigns against historic districts for years—blaming them for everything from retail closures to a lack of affordable housing. Now The New York Times featured an opinion piece on January 27 accusing historic districts of being “elite” and harming the fight against global warming. It’s worth noting that the author undercuts his own argument by acknowledging that even if every landmark in the country had solar panels, the impact would be negligible.
Here are the facts.
Historic districts take up less than 5% of the buildable land in New York City. They are the densest areas in every borough, with many rent-regulated apartments and longtime home owners.
They are just as popular with residents of Harlem, Bedford Stuyvesant, and Jackson Heights as they are with residents of the Upper East Side.
The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) routinely approves new buildings and additions in historic districts—just not the ever taller condo towers developers are after. LPC also routinely approves solar panels and other “green” upgrades. And older buildings are inherently energy efficient.
These statistics come from a 2016 economic study of the benefits of preservation in the City that the Conservancy commissioned from Washington D.C. economist Donovan Rypkema. His firm is updating that study for us now. He recently wrote a strong affirmation of historic districts in response to another attack in Forbes Magazine.
Donovan Rypkema pioneered the study of the impact of preservation on cities and states. He completed the first ever comprehensive analysis of how preservation has benefitted New York City. He has worked with 49 states and 40 countries, as well as the World Bank, Council of Europe, and the United Nations Development Program. His book, “The Economics of Preservation: A Community Leaders Guide” has been an invaluable guide for preservationists around the world.