Who Benefits From Historic Preservation?

Historic districts are intended to preserve neighborhood landmarks and buildings in the face of redevelopment. But some argue that such historic protections, in practice, actually drive up real estate prices and make neighborhoods expensive. Salon’s Will Doig lays out the arguments, using New York City’s Greenwich Village as an example. The neighborhood received historic designation in the 1960s, long before it became the tony enclave it is today.

D.C. has a number of historic districts scattered throughout the city, with more potentially on the way.

That cost-benefit analysis is tough to pull off. In hindsight, the benefits of saving Greenwich Village from urban renewal in the ’60s ended up outweighing the costs. Today, the neighborhood is tremendously loved and as far from being a “slum” as possible. It’s also a refuge for the wealthy, however, and could house many more people than it currently does. But maybe the biggest problem with expanding the Village’s protected boundaries now is that, in the words of social theorist David Harvey, Manhattan is becoming the world’s biggest gated community. Taking steps that will likely make it even pricier could keep its real estate eclectic, but in the process, help make its diversity a thing of the past.

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