Letter to the Editor | The New York Times | February 1, 2020

Preserving Historic Buildings

Have rules limiting changes in historic districts become too restrictive and elitist, as one opinion writer suggested?

Re “Historic Preservation Is Hurting Cities,” by Binyamin Appelbaum (Editorial Observer, Jan. 27):

Historic preservationists around the country were dismayed that The Times would publish a broadside against preservation based on the complaints of one resident in one Washington historic district who was (initially) denied the right to place solar panels on his rooftop.

First, the suggestion that historic preservation interferes with the ability of communities to respond to the climate crisis is untrue. Historic preservation is one of the most successful strategies for urban sustainability that any city can employ. Reusing existing building stock conserves energy and avoids the high environmental costs of new construction.

And sustainability is but one benefit of historic preservation. A new report by PlaceEconomics elucidates 24 benefits of preservation, including jobs, environmental responsibility, affordable housing, economic stability and density — not to mention preserving the uniqueness and livability of our neighborhoods.

Finally, the goal of preservation is not to “freeze” properties in time, but to manage change in a way that preserves community character. It is an effective way to ensure the sustainability, livability and economic vibrancy of changing cities, and it can and should be a movement as dynamic as the places it saves. Let’s not obscure the many benefits of historic preservation by repeating common misconceptions.

Paul Edmondson
Washington
The writer is president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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This Letter to the Editor appeared in The New York Times on February 1, 2020.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.
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