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Gentrification Enters Preservation Debate Surrounding NYC's Strand Bookstore

The Renaissance Revival building that houses New York City's beloved Strand Bookstore is under consideration by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission. The case has provoked debate between rival advocates.
July 19, 2019, 12pm PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Martin Hearn

"Since vacating 4th Avenue's legendary 'Book Row'—of which it is the only surviving store—in 1957, the Strand has blossomed into an adored cultural institution," Jack Denton writes. "Though colossal gentrification, the rise of Amazon, and various other bookseller-unfriendly forces have felled many other nearby stores, the Strand has remained."

Recently, a proposal from New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the exterior of the Strand's building has provoked pushback. "Landmarking will limit the store's ability to make renovations, creating bureaucratic costs for the store's continued existence, the Strand and its supporters argue." 

"In some ways, the owner of a for-profit business—albeit a culturally beloved one—fighting the city's proposed regulations on its building is a dog-bites-man story. However, the Strand's story also reflects a growing anti-landmarking coalition that views preservation initiatives as potentially harmful to the historic and culturally significant neighborhoods and buildings they intend to preserve."

Denton goes on to discuss the many angles from which advocates approach the desirability of landmarking. YIMBYs, for instance, oppose what they view as an imposition to new construction. Some anti-gentrification advocates dislike the practice because it can lead to higher perceived neighborhood desirability. Others see it as a way to fight rampant redevelopment. "In New York, landmarking of neighborhoods tends to raise housing costs in the outer boroughs, but not in already dense and expensive Manhattan, where the effect of landmarking on housing prices is small," Denton writes. 

While some advocates suggest "pairing historic preservation initiatives with plans for adding affordable housing or easing zoning restrictions outside the landmarked district," to do so "would require the cooperation of multiple independent city agencies that may not be in communication—and which might have rival priorities."

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Published on Wednesday, July 3, 2019 in Pacific Standard
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