Getting to the Right Model for Reviving the City

I thought this was a good read from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank,Redefining Historic Preservation . Here are the main points consistent with what this blog and several others have been advocating and wholly counter to what policy makers are actually pursuing:


As someone who has worked in historic preservation and community revitalization for more than 14 years, I believe that the practice of historic preservation and downtown revitalization are the best tools for communities facing the “shrinking cities” problem and brain drain—the loss of their younger demographic.

To build a successful and sustainable economy in the 21st century, it is critical for communities to differentiate themselves. They must create an environment that is compelling. While there is nothing wrong with chain or big-box stores, they are ubiquitous and can be only a part of the equation. What makes a community unique are its authentic assets—historic downtowns and neighborhoods.

To paraphrase noted economist Donovan Rypkema, when a building of quality (usually a “historic” building) is standing, there are only four options:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Stabilize the building and wait
  3. Rehabilitate the building
  4. Tear the building down

If the fourth option is chosen, all the others are eliminated along with any flexibility; the neighborhood is most likely sentenced to be another weed lot, the downtown another surface parking lot. Both of these draw little to no property tax revenue, show a lack of community creativity and are uninspiring to visitors and residents alike.

We cannot let our communities, particularly our smaller and more rural communities, die the death of a thousand cuts. We also cannot afford to continue to falsely prop them up, hoping the population loss will magically stop or they will be saved via the illustrious spec building or industrial park. We must make sure our communities are of quality. Focusing on the existing built environment, the historic core, is a first and strong step toward that end.

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