Planetizen - Urban Planning News, Jobs, and Education

Opinion: Historic Preservation's Climate Problem Reveals its Class Problem

A strongly worded opinion piece calls out historic preservation as a tool of the affluent urban elite.
January 29, 2020, 5am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments

Binyamin Appelbaum, a member of the editorial board of the New York Times, writes a criticism of historic preservation in the wake of a controversy about solar panels on historic homes in the historic district of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C, where Appelbaum lives.

Here's how Appelbaum summarizes the conflict:

Humans don’t like change, so it’s not surprising that historic preservation laws have become quite popular. There are now more than 2,300 local historic districts across the United States, and I know many people who would like to have their own neighborhood frozen in time.

But historic preservation comes at a cost: It obstructs change for the better. And while that price is generally invisible, it is now on public display because of the city’s efforts to prevent Washington homeowners in historic neighborhoods from installing visible rooftop solar panels.

Appelbaum describes some of the very strict rules the Capitol Hill historic district has for alterations to homes in the area, and with some of these restrictions it shouldn't be hard to imagine that solar panels aren't welcome, even in the midst of climate change. An October controversy over a D.C. homeowner's petition to add solar panels created an uproar, leading to some changes that will make it easier to "a little easier to win permission to put solar panels on historic homes," according to Appelbaum, but "the fact that Washington continues to impose any aesthetic restrictions on rooftop solar panels is still a problem — and it is emblematic of the broader problems with preservation."

That problem, according to Appelbaum, has less to do with preserving history, and more to do with preserving "the lifestyle of an affluent urban elite."

Full Story:
Published on Sunday, January 26, 2020 in The New York Times
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email