Preservation Issues

Preservation Debate at NY Times Conference


-From left: Ed Glaeser and Donovan Rypkema

July 19, 2016

Donovan Rypkema of PlaceEconomics in Washington D.C. delivered a powerful defense of preservation and historic districts, in a lively discussion with economist Ed Glaeser at the New York Times conference, “Cities for Tomorrow” on July 19.

Rypkema authored the Conservancy’s report Historic Preservation: At the Core of a Dynamic New York City, which articulated the many ways that preservation benefits New York, in terms of increased jobs, tourism, density, and sustainability.

Glaeser is a proponent of the theory that historic districts limit new building and therefore limit affordable housing. Rypkema countered that argument by noting that historic districts in New York account for less than 5% of land and lots across the five boroughs, leaving ample room for new development, and that characterizing historic districts as the villain in the struggle to create affordable housing is wrong.

Audience members were skeptical of Glaeser’s claims, asking how increased density would create affordable housing, when it has so often only added luxury condos. Glaeser excoriated New York’s regulatory process, saying it needed to be rethought. Rypkema cited a New York Building Congress report that lists recommendations to improve New York’s land use process, but does not even mention landmarking as an issue.

Glaeser conceded that preservation is “cool and interesting” and only a small part of the problem in creating affordable housing, while Rypkema noted that preservationists need to do a better job of explaining that preservation has evolved, and is no longer just about monuments and “old white guys,” but about African-American and Latino history, the LGBT community, and the character of the City. He also recommended that more New York developers explore combining the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit and the Historic Tax Credit, a strategy that has been successful across the country.

Here are key findings of Conservancy’s report:

The report cites a New York Building Congress report that 2015 was a record year for construction activity in the City, producing 36,850 units of housing, the highest number of units in recent years. While the City has to add density, the report states “scapegoating neighborhoods that are already the densest in the City is both foolish and bad public policy.”

Read more about the Conservancy’s Economic Impact Study