TV Report Furthers Argument Between Preservation and “Progress”

From the headline (“Progress vs. preservation turns into an ugly ordeal”) down, the WAVE3 piece pit preservationists against the advancement of the city.

The story, by WAVE3 reporter John Boel, was enough to spur the head of the Neighborhood Planning and Preservation Inc. to send an e-mail on Friday urging recipients to share their concerns with Boel.

Ultimately, the WAVE3 piece sums up three popular arguments against preservation:

  1. That it hinders entrepreneurs by requiring them to go out of their way to save crumbling “historic” buildings.
  2. That if preservationists want to save buildings, they should buy them and do so, rather than telling others what to do.
  3. That preservationists are a bunch of NIMBY-ers and BANANAs (“Not in my backyard” and “build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything”) who don’t live near many of the landmarks they fight for.

On point No. 1, Boel talks to building owners who say they’re hamstrung by preservation rules and unable to tear down crumbling buildings and build something new and immediately useful. He also shows a clip of a YouTube video by Terry Meiners that criticizes the preservation of the former Azalea’s restaurant (formerly Bauer’s, built shortly after the Civil War).

What’s Progress?

Preservationists take issue, however, with the definition of “progress” in Boel’s report. The preservation of the Twig and Leaf diner is presented with skepticism (and defended by Preservation Louisville head Marianne Zickuhr). But, talk at the time was that the building would’ve been replaced by a suburban-style drug store that wouldn’t fit in with the  neighborhood aesthetic.  That’s the kind of progress preservation laws were created to prevent. Preservationists contend that they aren’t trying to block development, they’re simply trying to preserve the history and character of urban life.

Buy It to Save It?

Point No. 2 is often shot down as unsustainable, since it would require preservationists to have the time and money to purchase and restore properties they enjoy. In August, Branden Klayko of Broken Sidewalk  had this to say about that argument:

On nearly every preservation battle, you’re bound to hear someone throw out the line, “If you want that building preserved, why don’t you go and buy it!” In many cases, this is already exactly what happens, such as a wealthy group of investors swooping in to save Whiskey Row, or another group led by Gill Holland buying the old Wayside site in Nulu. Louisville can’t continue to expect that preservation-by-patron will be a realistic or sustainable way to preserve the city’s built heritage forever.

Do Neighbors Want Preservation?

And point No. 3 is often disputed. In the WAVE story, Boel talks to David Yates, author of the controversial revisions to the city’s landmarks ordinance, who says preservationists aren’t keeping the best interests of the neighborhood in mind. Yates’ changes to the law require a majority of the signatures to come from people who live or own property near the proposed site. But Preservation Louisville cites this evidence in their “Facts and Fiction about Preservation” page to dispute that assertion:

The Peter C. Doerhoefer House, Landmarked in 2011, located at 4422 West Broadway, 40211: Out of a total 363 signatures, 172 of these came from the zip codes 40211 and 40212.

Twig and Leaf, Landmarked in 2011, located at 2122 Bardstown Road, 40204: Out of a total 679 signatures, 245 came from the 40205 zip code – well more than the 200 
needed to grant a hearing in front of the Landmarks Commission!

Colonial Gardens, Landmarked in 2008, located at 618 West Kenwood Drive, 40214 showed 
widespread support for the landmark with 31 zip codes represented and approximately 124 of 
the signatures came from west of Poplar Level Road.

NPP’s e-mail concludes with this sentence:

David Yates and Terry Meiners are featured in the piece; so it is probable that this is a continuation of the campaign the neutralize efforts to save what is left of historic Louisville.

This is an argument of aesthetics and usability. And it’s likely to only grow. More and more people are moving into cities. When that happens, citizens are forced to think about how they interact with the urban landscape, and city governments are forced to adapt to the needs and demands of the urban.

Brownsboro Road Diet: A Case Study

One recent battle was over the Brownsboro Road diet. The proposed road narrowing would make more room for pedestrians (some of them blind) and cyclists. However, some business owners felt the project would bottleneck traffic. Those in favor of the diet cited studies showing the project would reduce accidents and slow commutes infinitesimally. Opponents cited their own concerns. Terry Meiners made a video against it. It was cars versus pedestrians, commuters versus residents. The latter won in this case, and the project has been widely praised (though not in this recent Terry Meiners followup video).

Which side is the city on? That’s a tough question, and it’s unlikely the mayor’s office would even take a side, since the city must serve all constituents. But consider this: Mayor Fischer vetoed the Yates amendment (the council overruled that) and signed off on the road diet. He’s also basing his 25-year plan Vision Louisville on research from the Olso, Norway-based Space Group.

The Space Group’s findings and initial suggestions for Louisville are big on urbanism. A recent presentation shown in Louisville (see the PDF here or look below) predicts a car-choked, sprawled and polluted Derby City if the status quo is maintained. Their suggestions for improvements aim to reduce the number of auto commuters in Louisville from 84 percent to 40 percent. They suggest a light rail system that would connect neighborhoods, Ford, Fort Knox and UPS. They recommend adding density to the urban core and using the empty lots (many resulting from torn-down buildings) and empty buildings (many of them not declared landmarks) for additional housing.

Again, city government has to serve all constituents, but, as with any government, some constituencies are louder and more powerful than others. Louisville hasn’t seen the rapid urbanization that other cities have, but it’s becoming clear that one side of this argument is getting louder.

The Space Group’s Presentation on Louisville

Gabe Bullard

Gabe Bullard is the director of news and editorial strategy.

@gbullard

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