Our Response to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

On February 26, 2016, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) published a new draft policy statement on Historic Preservation and Community Revitalization seeking comments from the public. We appreciate the ACHP’s recognition of the important connections between preservation and community revitalization. We share the goal of empowering federal, state, and local governments to achieve revitalization goals while promoting the reuse and rehabilitation of historic properties.

However, the policy statement needs to go further in clearly describing the issues involved and charting a clear path forward for federal, state, and local government agencies and partners in this essential work. We urge the ACHP to revise the policy statement so it can play a stronger role in addressing the major challenges facing historic buildings and neighborhoods in America’s legacy cities. We invite any preservationists and legacy city allies with an interest in this topic to consider our response and share your own comments with the ACHP by this Monday, April 4, 2016.… Read More

Why We Need a New Word for “Blight”

By Justin G. Moore

Driving through Soulsville, a community in Memphis that lives up to its name, we pass by modest homes, long-vacant buildings (including the house where Aretha Franklin grew up), deteriorated roads and sidewalks, and overgrown and dumped-on lots that presumably were once home to families and businesses. Our group had just met at the Memphis Slim House, a vibrant and inspiring local community arts and education organization that had mustered the will and resources to help nourish their neighborhood’s soul–one mural, one bus stop, one gathering place, one creative outlet, and one soul at a time.

But still, as we continued to explore this part of the city, it was hard to ignore all of the… blight?

Then a brief but strange encounter with the police during our visit reaffirmed that this community’s problems were deep and that the tools being used to deal with these problems are blunt and imperfect.… Read More

Opening Up Vacant Lots Data

paulasegelheadBy Paula Segel

In New York City alone, hundreds of city-owned sites languish, located primarily in low-income communities of color, collecting garbage and blighting the very neighborhoods they could enliven. Taken together, these forgotten spaces — fenced-off, inaccessible and lost to bureaucratic neglect — are larger than most city parks. Uneven growth in cities, even in seemingly strong market cities like New York, is a problem that is compounded by an uneven access to information about how people can influence the development of the places where they live. In cities across America, a lack of developed and maintained green spaces is just one symptom of municipal neglect; a lack of information about how people can shape the city comes with it.

596 Acres, a land access advocacy group, has been running a pilot project that helps neighbors see opportunities in the fenced vacant lots of New York City’s most historically disadvantaged neighborhoods since August 2011.… Read More

Preservation as Change of Mind

margoBy Margo Warminski

I grew up in 48205. (Google it.) I lived in a place where the American dream went into reverse, and kept going backward. Eventually I moved to a calmer zip code but kept the Rust Belt DNA. Which is why I couldn’t wait to spend three days at the Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities conference in Cleveland.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Throw so many bright, engaged, outspoken urbanists in a (big) room and you can’t help but be inspired, and challenged by tough truths (Looking for happy talk? Keep looking.) like:

1. For years, much of preservation was oriented toward controlling growth: a manifest destiny of new restoration districts, better ordinances and more wood windows. But what happens when the wheels come off and, in some neighborhoods, you can’t even give houses away? Preservationists, not just in rusty cities, need a change of mind: learning to live within limits.… Read More

Community Gardens as Arenas of Change

marouhBy Marouh Hussein

Community gardens are not a new phenomenon but they have received increased attention in recent years because of their proven benefits. Whether they are spaces of food production, leisure, or recreation, the presence of a community garden in a distressed neighborhood often catalyzes change beyond these usages. The community garden movement in the mid-1970s and 1980s in Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City that, like legacy cities, experienced dramatic population decline, was a powerful tool that residents used to reclaim their neighborhood.

The first community gardens were used as a defense against the dilapidation and poverty that were plaguing Harlem in the 1970s. They were a means for residents to turn vacant lots that had become playgrounds for drug dealers, prostitution, gangs and rodents into spaces for the community to gather. Community gardens became arenas of change — spaces where residents could meet, collaborate, celebrate, protest and more.… Read More

Lessons from Suburbia

By Stephanie Sung

Mount Laurel, once a small, rural farming town in central New Jersey, has become a model for the integration of affordable housing in higher-income neighborhoods. A report by Princeton sociologist Douglas S. Massey called “Climbing Mount Laurel” reveals the positive outcomes of the long-fought land use battle, finding that fears of crime, drugs and blight were largely unfounded. The affluent families felt no impact, while low-income families saw their lives improve.

In a New York Times article, David L. Kirp reports:

There have been changes in life in Mount Laurel. But the changes are entirely consistent with those in demographically similar suburbs that surround the township. In all these communities, crime rates fell. Property values rose during the housing boom and dipped during the recession. Tax rates declined. Even in the Mount Laurel neighborhoods closest to the affordable housing, property values were unaffected. To most residents, the fact that poor families now live in Mount Laurel has proved entirely irrelevant.

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