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On the Importance of 'Legacy Architecture' to Good Places

Following a recent study finding quantifiable economic benefits for neighborhoods with a mix of older buildings, a writer describes the qualities of older buildings that makes the places they occupy feel so special.
May 20, 2014, 11am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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F. Kaid Benfield examines the sources of value in old, or legacy, buildings. Before explaining just what and how older buildings and neighborhoods add to communities and cities, Benfield explains the assumptions of his argument: "the best of our older buildings and neighborhoods have a distinctiveness to them, almost by default."

Benfield describes two of the attributes of older place that add to the vitality of communities: continuity of place and cultural engagement. In the case of the former concept, a place that has managed to retain its original character and charms provides comfort in a quickly changing world. In the case of the latter concept, "[these] places are magical precisely because we have had little or no previous experience, no continuity, with them," writes Benfield.

Benfield also cites new research from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, also discussed in depth by an earlier article by Emily Badger, which "finds that established neighborhoods with a mix of older, smaller buildings perform better on a range of economic, social, and environmental metrics than do districts with larger, newer structures."

Before concluding, Benfield makes it clear that he does not resist change, but that change must be thoughtful—"change that…does not blur the distinction of place but adds to it."

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Published on Monday, May 19, 2014 in Huffington Post
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