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Is Washington D.C. Preserving Buildings or Hoarding Them?

A piecemeal, reactive approach to historic preservation in the capital may burden the future with too many buildings of "middling merit."
January 29, 2018, 6am PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Kim Seidl

Noting that the city "has many more historically protected buildings than cities several times our size," Payton Chung argues that a vague set of criteria and the lack of a more centralized approach are hampering the effectiveness of historic preservation in Washington D.C.

Preservation may often act as a second option for residents opposed to changes the zoning code cannot prohibit. "Once it's in force, preservation concerns get the final say over just about everything else that might be on a community's wish list, whether it's sustainability, affordability, or occupant comfort."

A preservation glut, in addition to blocking new construction, "does an injustice to legitimately interesting buildings whose histories have yet to be uncovered, while also bloating the historic inventory with many other buildings of middling merit."

Chung makes a comparison to hoarding, whereas true collectors pick and choose. For D.C., picking and choosing might involve a comprehensive citywide survey of historic structures. "In these surveys, planners go out into the field to visit and inventory every single building, and evaluate whether it could potentially meet the predetermined criteria for historic designation because of its age, architectural merit, or context."

Basing historic designation on such a survey, Chung says, "would guarantee that the stories that those [building] types tell are being preserved, rather than rescuing everything for all time."

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Published on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 in Greater Greater Washington
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