Preservation Rightsizing Network

Legacy Cities + Historic Places

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No, Newark is not the next Brooklyn

By Anne Schaper Englot

In Newark we’re getting tired of hearing hyped-up comparisons to Brooklyn, but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone. In 2015 Politico ran a story headlined “Is Newark the next Brooklyn?” The piece was rebutted by Dr. Roland Anglin, a Brooklyn native with 20+ years of work in Newark who formerly helmed Rutgers University – Newark’s Joseph Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies. Anglin published his response—spoiler alert: Newark is not the next Brooklyn, nor do we aspire to be—in The Conversation. That should have put the issue to rest.

But speculation continued, with the question next being picked up by the New York Times in 2016. That time, it was refuted by Newark’s Deputy Mayor Baye Adofo-Wilson: “Newark’s not trying to be the next Brooklyn, or the next Jersey City… We have our own richness and our own culture here that isn’t just an expansion of Wall Street, but really an expansion of Newark and an expansion of New Jersey.”

Things were quiet for a while, but then the New York Post added to fuel to the fire when it quoted New Jersey Performing Arts Center CEO John Schreiber. Schreiber compared the transformation of Fort Greene around the Brooklyn Academy of Music with downtown Newark’s “culturally conscious” development. Yet he also emphatically countered the article’s premise: “Newark is not Brooklyn…Newark is Newark.”

He echoed the refrain we’ve heard again and again from Newark native, Mayor Ras Baraka. “Newark is the next Newark,” Baraka stated and restated to an appreciative audience gathered to hear the Mayor’s State of the City address in May 2017. And yet, on the cover of Radius, a local glossy published by Newark area developer and booster, Paul Profeta, a headline shouts, “Newark Is the New Brooklyn.”

The Hahne’s Building

Cited in almost all these articles as evidence of Newark’s “Brooklynness” is the renovation of the Hahne & Company Department store. Everyone in Newark has a story about the Hahne’s building if they were here prior to the store’s closing in 1987. Whether they shopped there, worked there, or just passed through to stare at luxury goods beyond their reach, Hahne’s played a central role in the life of the city. If you were walking down the street with a Hahne’s shopping bag, you were stylin’.

When my family was first contemplating a move to Newark late in 2013, I drove down Broad Street, Newark’s main thoroughfare. Plywood and chain link surrounded the central park downtown. There was a two-block construction site across the street and the Hahne’s building was all boarded up—a white elephant—at the center of town. Nevertheless, we were assured that Newark was undergoing a renaissance. The first piece of evidence was the opening of Military Park—an expert $3 million reimagining by Dan Biederman Associates, the firm responsible for renovation and programing in Bryant Park.

Photo credit: Anne Schaper Englot

The Prudential Tower was next. Its sleek glass-clad façades and green design brought thousands of employees downtown in one fell swoop. The beautiful new office building was designed by Kohn Pederson Fox and a LEED Gold-accredited, state-of-the-art facility complete with a green wall and green roof. Prudential transferred over 3,000 employees from the suburbs to the building, which looks down on Military Park and mirrors its triumph.

Photo credit: Anne Schaper Englot

The final piece in the set is the Hahne’s building. L+M Development Partners undertook a $174 million redevelopment to transform it into a mixed-use building with retail, commercial, educational, and residential spaces. At its grand opening in January 2017, a record crowd assembled to celebrate the rebirth of a civic treasure. All doubts about Newark’s renaissance—which I learned had been touted in the local and national media periodically since 1987—were put to rest.

Opened in 1901 and designed by Goldwin Starrett (who was soon to be a premiere department store architect), the Hahne & Company store was the gold standard. It had four floors plus a basement of retail around the Grand Court, which was topped by a skylight that sent sun to every level. The store was at the heart of the city.

Photo credit: Anne Schaper Englot

Everyone in the city has a story about Hahne’s. Some stories reflect the institutionalized racial inequality that divided the city in the 1960s. One man told of being an elevator operator who took ladies’ furs to the fur vault after the winter months—yet he was not allowed to set foot on the all-white retail floor. Other memories were more hopeful, such as a professor’s story about winning a drawing contest as a young girl for her drawing of her mom, which was displayed in the store window on Mother’s Day.

When the store was closed in the late 1980s, it was a hole in the heart of Newark. When it became clear that the Hahne’s building would reopen, the city shed a 30-year chip from its shoulder.

Hahne’s Building: A Case Study in Partnerships

L+M are continuing to work to fill all the commercial spaces, but it is only a matter of time. PetCo, CityMD, a Marcus Samuelson restaurant, and a shared-work-hub are all committed future tenants. L+M started the project under former mayor (now U.S. Senator) Cory Booker, who is still a frequent visitor to the building. Booker helped secure the first anchor tenant, Whole Foods, by contacting the company constantly until it finally agreed Newark was “ready” for a store.

Photo credit: Anne Schaper Englot

Rutgers University – Newark was the second anchor tenant to sign on. An amazing synchronicity occurred with the arrival of new RU-N chancellor Nancy Cantor. Cantor is a national expert in creating anchor partnerships between universities and cities, and she saw an opportunity to invest in a linchpin project with other Newark anchors such as Prudential and Goldman Sachs. A RU-N faculty proposal to relocate their engaged scholarship and social art practice to a space in the downtown was quickly approved.

I became involved in the development of this space in the roughly 500,000 square foot Hahne’s building because of my background in architecture, initially serving as a liaison between KSS architects and the faculty, and now serving as the co-director with Newark artist and long-time gallerist, Victor Davson. It is a 50,000 square foot, $25 million project we call Express Newark, as in “Express your amazing soul, Newark.” Express Newark is a university-community collaboratory where printmakers, video artists, a sculptor who has mastered 3-D imaging and printing, graphic designers, painters, photographers, and writers—many of them multimedia artists—work together on myriad projects.

Photo credit: Anthony Alvarez

All told, there are 28 local artists who are recognized community partners, 18 faculty members, and over 1,000 Rutgers students actively engaged in Express Newark. Roughly 150 Newark High School students take college prep and art workshops several Saturdays a month as part of a Kresge-funded program. At first, we worried about not marketing enough to the public, but now we’re trying to stem the tide of organizations and individuals who want to hold conferences, lectures, events, and more in the Express Newark space.

Photo credit: Halkin Mason Photography, courtesy of KSS Architects

Renaissance? Sure, but it’s Newark’s

L+M made so many decisions about the Hahne’s project that were about maintaining the integrity of the architecture and not about the bottom line. The best example is the Grand Court skylight, which had been painted and tarred over during WWII to prevent it from becoming a target for enemy planes. L+M painstakingly disassembled the skylight, sent it to Pennsylvania for sandblasting and restoration, and lovingly reinstalled it over the second story to recreate a modern version of the original Grand Court. The third and fourth floors of the court became a residential court with apartment windows and patios overlooking the skylight. I am such a believer that my husband and I were the first residential tenants: on February 1, we moved into an apartment that overlooks Military Park.

Photo credit: Anne Schaper Englot

Recently, we sat outside with some neighbors at Burg, a burger joint and beer garden in Military Park. The outdoor bar was packed with millennials, there were people jogging and walking dogs, a group was waiting to go on a tour of the city, and others had gathered to paint watercolors and play ping pong. It was a vibrant Newark scene—our own kind of renaissance.

Anne Schaper Englot is a Professor of Practice in Architecture & Humanities in Rutgers University-Newark’s Arts, Culture & Media Department and is the Co-Director of Express Newark: a University – Community Arts Collaboratory.


About this series

This is the first post in a series that will dig into preservation and the arts in legacy cities. The arts have the potential to underpin many of the strategies in the Action Agenda, especially thoughtful, creative community engagement.

Action item 2: Engage and listen to local communities

Preservationists must listen to local needs and priorities and develop new forms of community engagement informed by diverse communities and youth. Creative visualization of preservation’s potential—pop-up shops in vacant storefronts, art installations in empty houses, and collective daydreaming like artist Candy Chang’s “I wish this were” walls—can share important community stories, underscore the importance of place and community, and spur real action to revitalize both vernacular and high-style neighborhoods.

Legacy city preservation practice must hold local heritage and quality of life as significant as architecture. Intangible heritage and culture—the stories that make a community what it is—should be recognized and preserved through oral histories, community storytelling events, and in other ways. is is especially important when demolition is necessary and in neighborhoods that have been shaped by long-term disinvestment and systemic racism.

Dispatch from Seattle

By Julianne Patterson

The Bobs Quality MeatsAction Agenda is a new approach to preservation in ALL cities. Although I live Seattle, currently one of the fastest growing cities, the Action Agenda articulates what many preservationists already believe but have a hard time reconciling with: historic preservation is more than old buildings and architectural history. Recognizing preservation is just a piece of something bigger is critical for success.

When I first read through the Action Agenda I found myself literally giddy with excitement over the call for strategic demolitions (gasp!), more data, more cross-disciplinary collaboration, and more creative funding solutions – in just 30 pages. These ideas need to reach a larger audience and start planting seeds so I was thrilled that PRN Chair Cara Bertron was able to present at the Washington State Preservation and Main Street Conference this April.

Application to Main Street Washington: Although Washington does not have legacy cities in the traditional sense, we have 32 Main Street Communities that struggle with many of the same challenges on a smaller scale. So many rural communities in our state were once settled and dependent on a single industry (agriculture, mining, etc) that either no longer exists, or exists in a drastically different way. These small towns want to protect their unique heritage after populations have dwindled but often don’t have the resources to encourage investment. The Action Agenda can provide insight on how to change traditional approaches to preservation in these towns.

Application to rapidly growing cities like Seattle: Each community hasKing St Station_12 unique challenges, and a booming city like Seattle is no different. How do you best promote and honor a local landmark ordinance in a city where the land is often more valuable without the existing building? Too often buildings are deemed significant in self-defense, motivated by the fear of rapid, uncontrolled growth. How do preservationists engage stakeholders in the larger conversation before the eleventh hour to reach an authentic solution? Multidisciplinary collaboration will be key to the future success of cities and preservationists need a seat at the table.

The Action Agenda doesn’t have all the answers to these questions. Instead, it encourages everyone that identifies as a preservationist to question what that really means and what their role is in the bigger picture, and at the local level.

Julianne Patterson is the Development and Events Coordinator at the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

We need strong statements on preservation and revitalization to support legacy cities—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.

The ACHP is an independent federal agency that advises the President, Congress, and federal agencies on national historic preservation policy. The foundation for the current policy statement was laid in March 2013 with the ACHP’s report Managing Change: Preservation and Rightsizing in America (PDF). To build on this publication, the agency organized a working group in December 2014 whose comments over the past year have helped to inform the proposed policy statement.

What is our response to the policy statement?

The policy statement consists of ten principles presented as “sound guidance to assist communities in their efforts to incorporate historic preservation into project planning”:

  1. Historic preservation values should be considered in the revitalization of both rural and urban communities.
  2. Historic preservation should be incorporated in local planning for sustainability, smart growth, and community resilience.
  3. Historic property surveys, including those in historic districts, are tools that should be used by communities to provide for federal, state, and local planning and revitalization projects.
  4. Effective citizen engagement allows community residents to identify resources they care about and share their views on local history and cultural significance.
  5. Indian tribes may have an interest in urban and rural community revitalization projects that may affect sites of historic, religious, and cultural significance to them.
  6. Private resources can contribute to local revitalization efforts and leverage public funds.
  7. Tax credits can be used to promote historic preservation projects that preserve local assets.
  8. Early consideration of alternatives to avoid or minimize adverse effects to historic properties is essential to ensure proper integration of historic properties in revitalization plans.
  9. Development of flexible and programmatic solutions can help expedite historic preservation reviews as well as more effectively and proactively address situations involving recurring loss of historic properties.
  10. Creative mitigation can facilitate future preservation in communities.

While there is little to disagree with in the ten principles, they each must be stronger and more focused to be useful to their intended audience. We have three major concerns:

  • The policy statement does not clearly explain the relationships between historic preservation and community revitalization. Without clear definitions of these terms and their meaning from the ACHP, the statement and its principles are difficult for government agencies or local preservation advocates to leverage into action.
  • The policy statement does not explore the feasibility of these principles  through examples. We know that innovative work is going on around the country at these intersections between preservation and revitalization. This statement is an opportunity to highlight those examples for leaders in public service and explore how federal, state, and local agencies can play a more active role.
  • The policy statement does not consider the present context for preservation and revitalization. For example, recommending surveys and inventories does not help the many states and local governments that have seen major decreases in funding over the past decade. CLG staff are cited as a resource, but many communities—particularly those struggling with long-term population loss—lack the funding to hire specialized staff; indeed, some communities have a one-person planning department. And recommending tax credits does little for properties located in disinvested urban neighborhoods with limited access to private lending. We agree that preservation can and does play a significant role in community revitalization, but the policy statement will be most compelling and useful if the structural challenges facing legacy cities and other distressed communities are fully acknowledged.
Buffalo, 2011. Photograph by Cara Bertron.

Buffalo, 2011. Photograph by Cara Bertron.

What else could the ACHP be doing?

What is the alternative for the ACHP? We ask this policy statement to:

  • Acknowledge the immense scale of challenges surrounding vacant and distressed historic buildings in communities across the United States, from Baltimore to Detroit to Chicago to St. Paul.
  • Provide clear direction and informational resources for the overburdened and under-resourced staff dealing with these issues in state and local government, along with the many nonprofits and private developers who are affected by preservation policy.
  • Identify the legislative and rule-making hurdles presented by federal and state policies for historic preservation and other areas, including 1) the diminished “integrity” of many historically disinvested neighborhoods and 2) the increased measures and costs required to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards on rehabilitation projects.

How can you share your comments?

If you share our concerns or have other questions of your own, we encourage you to submit your own comments on the ACHP Policy Statement on Historic Preservation and Community Revitalization by email to by April 4, 2016. For questions about the statement, you can contact Charlene Dwin Vaughn, Assistant Director, Office of Federal Agency Programs, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation at 202–517–0207.


Cara Bertron
Chair, Preservation Rightsizing Network

Emilie Evans
​Secretary, Preservation Rightsizing Network
​Director, Rightsizing Cities Initiative, PlaceEconomics

Eli Pousson
Leadership Team Member, Preservation Rightsizing Network
Director of Preservation & Outreach, Baltimore Heritage

Melissa Jest
Leadership Team Member, Preservation Rightsizing Network
Manager, Historic Properties Redevelopment Program, National Trust for Historic Preservation

Nicholas Hamilton
Leadership Team Member, Preservation Rightsizing Network
Director of Urban Policy, The American Assembly
Director, Legacy Cities Partnership

Is the National Register of Historic Places Helping or Hindering Legacy City Preservation?

By Michael R. Allen

Today, as historic preservationists delve into the realities of older American cities that have faced population and building loss, we find ourselves reaching—and transcending—our field’s own limits. Nowhere is this more evident than in our engagement with the methodology of “rightsizing,” which has found preservation advocates making the case for embracing some demolition. The converse of this bold new look at urban preservation means developing serious conservation strategies for vernacular building stock that might not come in the tidiest, architectural history textbook–friendly form. If we embrace demolition to save cities, we can’t neglect the preservation work needed for what remains.

This building in St. Louis' St. Louis Place neighborhood is not eligible for National Register of Historic Places listings, along with thousands of other historic buildings in cities across the country. As a result, there are almost no resources for its preservation and it almost certainly will be demolished.

This building in St. Louis’ St. Louis Place neighborhood is not eligible for National Register of Historic Places listings, along with thousands of other historic buildings in cities across the country. As a result, there are almost no resources for its preservation and it almost certainly will be demolished.

That’s where our left hand smacks into our right. The National Register of Historic Places, the backbone of American preservation practice for nearly 50 years, looks more like an impediment than a helpmate for the new era of legacy city preservation. In some cases, it actually makes preservation of places important to people more difficult.

The major problem for legacy cities is that National Register listing is predicated on a building or district’s “integrity,” a status based on having a majority of seven aspects based on historic appearance. For a city like Boston or Savannah, finding districts that look as they did in an earlier time is a lot easier than finding the same in East St. Louis or Detroit. Fractured neighborhoods don’t stand a chance of becoming historic districts, no matter how hard communities push. The National Register privileges appearance over community will, public commemoration and economic value.

The result is that parts of neighborhoods can become National Register historic districts, but areas with scattered remaining buildings—people’s homes and businesses, often where deep neighborhood legacies reside—cannot. This would not be a problem if preservationists regarded the National Register and its enshrined criteria as simply a federal preservation planning tool, which is its true intention. Instead, we have written other preservation laws from local demolition review to state historic tax credit programs to enshrine National Register status and standards. There are social justice implications to all of these laws.

Preservation practice rooted in the National Register can become arbiter of people’s abilities to even have a neighborhood. In St. Louis, I have worked for years in both advocacy and practitioner capacity urging preservation of the city’s near north side, where 19th-century walking neighborhoods were torn apart by federal urban renewal programs. Today, the city has designated 1,500 acres of north St. Louis as a privatized urban renewal project called Northside Regeneration. While there are several districts in the area, and I co-authored the National register nominations for two new ones in the last four years, most of the area consists of scattered historic buildings whose groupings are not eligible for the National Register due to lost “integrity.”

The streets of the St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou neighborhoods may look depleted to the eye of the preservation official, but to residents’ eyes the streets are ripe with history. The history that these streets embody to many people is not the origination era when the rowhouses and flats were built, but the recent years when African-American residents inscribed their cultural life here. Small businesses hold stories. Remaining houses in JeffVanderLou show us the heroic effort of the Jeff-Vander-Lou Corporation, which broke the urban renewal script by renovating over 800 units of existing housing in the 1960s and 1970s while the bulldozers mowed down adjacent areas. The explanation of why the area can’t get listed in the National Register puzzles residents.

Still, Northside Regeneration’s preservation plan calls for retaining only buildings eligible for the federal and Missouri historic tax credits. The other areas are marked for wholesale clearance for new construction. The developer, the city and many preservation advocates have consigned these areas to the wrecking ball because they are ineligible for the National Register. That is discordant with the desires of many residents not simply to stay in their homes but to see the areas around them remain recognizable as their neighborhoods. Preservation seems to be too willing to denigrate community will, in favor of bureaucratic consistency.

Where is the movement that emerged to fight the federal bulldozer? Historic preservation sprouted up as a major cause in the age when entire neighborhoods were being wrecked in the 1950s and 1960s, including those in north St. Louis that are once more in the crosshairs of progress. What a shame it would be if the movement now became complicit with the postmodern equivalent of Great Society–era urban renewal clearance. Not only does the city lose buildings, but preservation itself loses the chance to embrace a constituency of urban residents who love historic neighborhoods. We can’t simply tell them that their neighborhoods aren’t good enough for us, can we?

The St. Louis Cultural Resources Office, under the direction of Betsy Bradley, points to a more inclusive politics of preservation. Last year, in the city’s JeffVanderLou neighborhood, a corner store known as Tillie’s Corner was headed to a National Register listing for Ethnic Heritage. “Miss Tillie” has operated an institution that was a gathering place from the 1940s through the 1980s as JeffvanderLou became an African-American neighborhood. Her granddaughter Carla Pearson spearheaded a grassroots preservation campaign that sadly ended when the buildings collapsed before National Register listing was complete. The Cultural Resources Office pushed to make the site, now a community garden and residence, a City Landmark despite the building loss—because the site was a tremendous cultural site from the recent past.

There are more City Landmarks all over the north side of St. Louis, with or without remaining buildings, and the Cultural Resources Office’s willingness to recognize ascribed cultural value instead of relying upon the influence of the National Register integrity standard is commendable. However, none of these City Landmarks can receive state or federal historic tax credits without National Register status. Tillie’s Corner doesn’t need incentives to preserve what is lost, but other lone buildings of neighborhood value and historic significance need financial gaps closed to ensure survival. As long as historic tax credit laws privilege National Register status, which precludes listing of many urban buildings, we’ll lose countless buildings of great cultural value.

The new South Carolina tax credit for rehabilitation of abandoned buildings is a great step for preservation of cultural sites, because it divorces preservation incentives from the National Register. State and local laws need to respond to public will to preserve—not the National Register’s standards created for federal management purposes. Preservationists in turn need to champion alternative forms of commemoration instead of pointing people to a single tool in what should be a larger toolkit. The federal 10 percent tax credit is also a useful mechanism, but it is not sufficient to bridge financial gaps in many distressed urban areas, and there are no state-level equivalents.

Reforming the National Register itself is still needed, and urgent. Last year in Indianapolis at the National Preservation Conference, both Raymond Rast and Vincent L. Michael eloquently laid out reforms that would help cultural properties currently deficient in both “integrity” and even “significance” (the National Register castigates ordinary buildings, even though they form the bulk of shared American experience). Ned Kaufman has urged preservationists to utilize the National Register definition of “traditional cultural property,” largely applied to Native American properties, to make the case for listing the urban vernacular associated with ethnic heritage. Reforming the National Register, however, won’t happen without a preservation movement that recognizes that some places need different frameworks for evaluation, commemoration and conservation. The fates of our legacy cities are too important to not develop these new tools.

Nearly 20 years ago, historian Dolores Hayden published her renowned book The Power of Place, in which she argued that preservationists were neglecting sites and buildings associated with women and minority history, social unrest and the lives of the working class. Hayden expressly called for historic preservationists to take seriously “ordinary buildings”—worker’s houses, factories, warehouses and other buildings whose significance is probably not architectural. As long as preservationists take the National Register as a veritable gospel, we are blinding ourselves to all aspects of historic places. Places that matter to people don’t always matter because of the way they look—they matter because of what they mean.

Preservation practice is going to change based on engagement with the reality of rightsizing older cities. While embracing demolition is the seemingly most radical aspect of that change, confronting—and in some cases overthrowing—the National Register may be more fundamental. Rightsizing is about more than assenting to demolition. Fundamentally, urban rightsizing demands that preservationists recognize that solutions are contextual, collaborative and multi-faceted. If the National Register isn’t helping us do our work, we need to find—or invent—the mechanism that does.


Michael R. Allen is the founder and director of the Preservation Research Office and a lecturer in American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. His writing on historic preservation, architectural history and public art has appeared in Next City, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Temporary Art Review, PreservationNation, nextSTL and other outlets.

Allen first published this article as a guest post for the Preservation Leadership Forum blog.

A call for hope and action

By Jeff Johnson

As a member of Cleveland City Council, I have been challenged to respond to some difficult issues within the urban neighborhoods of the city. One of those issues is how to preserve Cleveland’s cultural heritage, including the structures and sites that are historic and important to the city, while it goes through very difficult economic and social change. Of course I know what I am facing in Cleveland are the same challenges that other leaders in Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, Buffalo, and many other cities are also seeing each day.

Cleveland's Collinwood neighborhood (Photo: Stu Spivack)

Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood (Photo: Stu Spivack)

It was these significant challenges that led me earlier this year to work with the Cleveland Restoration Society and Cleveland State University to plan and organize the Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities conference in June. I was delighted and inspired by what I learned during the three days at the conference.

I was particularly energized by the workshop on the last day of the conference, as a room full of participants with diverse talents and experiences talked about the previous two days and the priority issues for historic preservation in our legacy cities. That discussion included:

  • A belief I shared that to preserve our legacy cities, we have to organize within the historic preservation community to develop effective advocacy and education strategies around the changes we need within our cities. Also, the ability of individuals and organizations to share, support, and sustain preservation efforts within legacy cities is critical to strengthening those cities.
  • Acknowledgment that the loss of population from the core of our legacy cities, along with increased poverty, has created socially and economically weaker neighborhoods with many abandoned structures, increased foreclosures, and decreased investment. We know that these social and economic shifts have raised doubt concerning the continued value and usefulness of historic preservation in the struggle to save our neighborhoods.
  • Overviews of successful projects within legacy cities that have strengthened neighborhood commercial districts and proved that economic development and historic preservation are not mutually exclusive.
  • The need to strike a more rational balance of the use of demolition, mothballing, and rehabilitation in the fight against abandonment and blight, so that they do not lose historically significant neighborhood and downtown structures.
  • The commitment to not surrender to the cynical beliefs of some key influential and powerful voices in our cities who say that historic preservation is a luxury we cannot afford during these difficult times.

    The Doan Classroom Apartments in Cleveland offer affordable senior housing in a formerly foreclosed building (Photo: Ohio Preservation Compact)

    The Doan Classroom Apartments in Cleveland offer affordable senior housing in a formerly foreclosed building (Photo: Ohio Preservation Compact)

Growing up in the historic Cleveland neighborhoods of Collinwood and Glenville, I recognized and appreciated the importance of legacy and cultural heritage. I continue to believe that fighting for our historic community links, as reflected in our historically significant physical structures and sites, is essential in the effort to solve our most difficult social and economic problems.

The Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities conference provided for me confirmation that this is the right fight. I left with the understanding that the identification, insight, and analysis of the challenges of our legacy cities undoubtedly requires historic preservation to ensure that we actually solve our problems and not lose what is uniquely ours.

Jeff Johnson is Councilman of Ward 10 in the city of Cleveland, Ohio.

Legacy cities: A community of advocates

By Nick Hamilton

This is an abbreviated story of the thinking and planning that created two conferences: one that led to something new and big, and a second whose effects are still unfolding. The first was the 110th American Assembly in Detroit in 2011, where the term legacy cities was coined in recognition of the distinct challenges and opportunities this group of cities faces.

The Legacy Cities Partnership was founded as a result of this meeting, as a joint project of the American Assembly at Columbia University, the Center for Community Progress, and the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City. Its goal: to strengthen legacy cities’ capacities for policy change and governance reform, develop a superior understanding of urban stabilization and regeneration, and connect an array of related federal, regional, state, and local initiatives.

A few months ago, the Assembly was pleased to co-sponsor a closely related effort: the second conference, the Historic Preservation in Legacy Cities convening in Cleveland. In my capacity at the American Assembly, Ihelped organize the closing policy workshop, an event intended to produce actionable recommendations for the community of preservation practitioners and leaders. The forthcoming workshop report will develop these recommendations into a public format.

Shared Principles and Realities

E 4th_Cleveland_SSung

East 4th Street in Cleveland (Photo: Stephanie Sung)

The Cleveland convening was based on a central principle of both the Assembly and the Legacy Cities Partnership: that a framework for positive change must include a vision for the future that is built on a rigorous analysis of cities’ assets and liabilities. An important and underappreciated asset for most legacy cities like Cleveland is a rich historic fabric. The vernacular and formal civic, residential, and commercial built environment gives these cities an authenticity and vitality that makes them attractive and meaningful to current and potential residents. Identifying creative ways to reuse, activate, and unlock these assets will be critical to the success of legacy city revitalization efforts.

The convening also addressed a significant challenge that is especially common in legacy cities: the limited organized civic and financial capacity to advocate for and implement change. Successful revitalization is more likely when civic groups are working together and conversations are happening across professional silos. Speakers at the conference spanned multiple disciplines and repeatedly stressed the need to deploy limited preservation dollars according to a strategy, while workshop participants recognized the urgent need for meaningful collaboration.

As anyone working on the ground in legacy cities knows, resources are scarce. Demolition begins at $10,000 per house, while renovation frequently costs upwards of $100,000. Mothballing everything in a city that is unlikely to see a population rebound over the next few decades is unsustainable. Strategic responses must be balanced between demolition and preservation to be viable and successful.

Moving Forward

One of the conference panels showcased new ideas about how to develop strategic preservation responses by using new layers of information to help allocate limited dollars. In one example, Emilie Evans, Matt Hampel, and others showed how a pared-down city- or community-led survey of historic buildings can enable cities to map their assets—and help prioritize demolition funding for other buildings—without breaking the budget. Mandy Metcalf also demonstrated a promising new spatial analysis technique that shows where neighborhood-scale commercial nodes (intersections, commercial corridors) are happening in clusters rather than in isolation. This points to where historic preservation as a form of economic development might be strategically employed with limited dollars. The Preservation Rightsizing Network continues to be a locus for creative thought in how the community should move forward.

Several things stood out to me at the close of the conference and workshop:

  1. None of these preservation tactics should be used in isolation: all need to be paired with long-term revitalization visioning on the scale of Detroit Future City.
  2. Preservation must be informed by a meaningful civic engagement process that gathers information from individuals on the ground about local assets.
  3. Preservation is a valuable component in the toolkit for revitalization because of its intensely local nature. It can be an effective mode of local organizing with spillover effects of capacity-building.
  4. Interdisciplinary perspectives are often missing from the preservation conversation. However, by gathering diverse interests that include a spectrum of interests we can move closer to a revitalization framework that has a chance for success.

Learn more about the Legacy Cities Partnership and the American Assembly at

Nick Hamilton leads the urban policy work of the American Assembly, including the Legacy Cities Partnership. Founded by Dwight D. Eisenhower at Columbia University in 1950, the American Assembly develops practical and nonpartisan recommendations on how to improve public policy through research and the convening of academic, business and civic leaders.

Flexibility and neighborhood preservation in legacy cities

By Nancy E. Boone

The Legacy Cities conference held in Cleveland in June had preservationists from across the nation thinking about what more we can do to contribute to the rejuvenation of struggling, high-vacancy neighborhoods in older industrial cities. A lot of the talk centered around flexibility: focusing on preservation of neighborhoods over individual buildings.

One tool for doing just that already exists for projects that are assisted with federal funds and therefore require Section 106 review. First issued in 1995 and updated and revised in 2006, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s Policy Statement on Affordable Housing and Historic Preservation lays out ten principles for balancing the national public goals of creating affordable housing and preserving historic buildings.* The principles provide sound guidance not only for Section 106, but several also relate more broadly to rightsizing issues in legacy cities.

Take, for example, principles III (“Review of effects in historic districts should focus on exterior features”) and IV (“Plans and specifications should adhere to the Secretary’s Standards when possible and practical” [emphasis added]). These are flexible principles that help counter the widespread perception that it’s hard to rehabilitate old buildings, especially if they are designated “historic.” As preservationists, we need to focus on realistic neighborhood-scale improvement. Some buildings will be lost, others will be reborn, and new buildings will be built, potentially energizing neighborhood revitalization through good new design.

Vacant house slated for rehabilitation in Cleveland's Slavic Village (Photo: Slavic Village Recovery Project)

Vacant house slated for rehabilitation in Cleveland’s Slavic Village (Photo: Slavic Village Recovery Project)

In many legacy cities, there is a huge pool of vacant houses and a severe shortage of decent affordable housing. How can we do more to bring the two together, to rehabilitate abandoned buildings into homes for residents of limited means? To what extent can we promote homeownership opportunities?

Can we look into our own history and remember and adapt some of the urban homesteading tools that preservationists used in the 70s and 80s? Can we identify and lessen or remove barriers to rehabilitation of affordable housing in urban neighborhoods? Flexibility is clearly part of the answer, and the ACHP’s Policy Statement on Affordable Housing and Historic Preservation is there to help.

HUD’s popular Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and HOME Investment Partnerships program also offer significant assistance. Grantees decide how and where they want to use these funds. It can be for rehabilitation, demolition, new construction, and more. You can find out your community’s vision for CDBG and HOME funds in the Consolidated Plans posted on HUD’s website. Development of the Plans is a public process. Make your ideas known.

* The Policy does not apply to Historic Tax Credit projects.

Nancy E. Boone is the Federal Preservation Officer at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Preservation as Change of Mind

By 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:

  • 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. As we heard over and over, the overriding goals should be to keep buildings standing, and keep people in them—even if we have to compromise on guidelines and expectations.
  • You can’t demolish away the problem of vacated neighborhoods. (A ringing truth.) For years, cities have been whacking away at buildings in a kind of slow-motion urban renewal, yet vacancy continues to spread. As Allan Mallach ably stated, low demand, not vacancy, is the issue.
  • You can’t separate race, class, poverty, crime, unemployment, and extreme isolation.
  • You can’t save everything. We know this better than anyone.
  • And: Time, resources, political will—never enough.

IMG_0343Most exciting was the four-hour closing workshop where we hammered together an action agenda, more or less in harmony. Our rough-draft wish-list included more funding (saved, expanded tax credit; new products for low-value properties); more balance (money for stabilization, not just demolition); and more, better data.

And we left with work orders:

  • Pitch the plans. Take meaningful, incremental steps.
  • Go top-down, bottom-up. Cities need both DIY urbanism and activist government.
  • Reach across the room. Realize that first priorities of people in hard-hit neighborhoods probably aren’t restoring Italianate cornices. You can’t impose on people with different priorities.
  • Find common threads in tangled history. Newer residents of old neighborhoods may not cherish them for the original residents, but they may share values and aspirations with the founders.

Now, back to 48205. As a kid, I wanted to live on a street in a nearby neighborhood called Robinwood East. Just a bungalow block, but the name sounded glamorous. (Google-map it to see what’s left of it today.) For Robinwood East and Delhi Avenue and Flint and Youngstown and struggling historic places in lonely corners of America, that’s why this matters. Let’s go.

Margo Warminski is the Preservation Director at the Cincinnati Preservation Association. Images accompanying this blog post were taken by Nicholas Emenhiser.

Tax Reform Act Threatens Essential Rightsizing Tax Credit Programs

The Preservation Rightsizing Network raises strong concerns about the recent proposal from Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) to eliminate tax credits that are essential to building strong neighborhoods across the country. Rep. Camp’s Tax Reform Act of 2014 proposes to remove tools that promote historic preservation, reuse of existing buildings, sustainable development, and neighborhood stabilization.

Rep. Camp is departing chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, so his proposal is more speculative than imminent. However, it certainly will impact future discussions on federal tax credits. The proposed changes take aim at a variety of credits that currently incentivize the reduction of vacant land and building stock, as well as sustainable new and historic development.

The following changes proposed by Rep. Camp all negatively impact rightsizing efforts:

Federal Historic Tax Credits: Rep. Camp proposes complete elimination of the federal historic tax credit, which provides a non-transferable 20% credit against expenses that are incurred rehabilitating certified historic buildings and a 10% credit for age-qualified buildings. These credits are essential for cities looking to strengthen historic neighborhoods and avoid the prospect of having demolition be the only blight-fighting remedy.

Energy Credit: Rep. Camp proposes eliminating the 30% federal credit against the cost of energy efficiency measures on existing and new buildings. This credit helps property owners enhance sustainability of older buildings, making their rehabilitation more feasible.

Low Income Housing Tax Credit: Rep. Camp proposes eliminating the 4% tax credit entirely. His bill would eliminate the increased basis rule for high-cost and difficult development areas and repeal the requirement that states should include energy efficiency and historic status of properties in their low-income housing selection criteria. For the 9% program, Rep. Camp would shift from allocating credit amounts to allocating qualified basis. These changes would make the program difficult to utilize for urban housing development and reduce the chances that the credit would prioritize rehabilitation of existing historic buildings.

New Energy Efficient Home Tax Credit: Rep. Camp proposes complete repeal of the tax credit for construction of qualified energy-efficient homes. This change would remove an incentive for sustainable residential development on vacant lots utilized in urban infill.

The Preservation Rightsizing Network promotes the retention of all of these incentives, because they are needed together to offer cities options for their futures. We call for our colleagues in historic preservation and allied fields—those that value sustainability and affordability, and work for lasting community revitalization—to stand against Rep. Camp’s proposal and those to follow that may adopt the anti-tax credit agenda.

Urgent Work in Good Company: The Preservation Rightsizing Network Takes Off

This post was originally published on December 10th, 2013 on the Preservation Leadership Forum blog of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Idora Neighborhood in Youngstown, OH | Credit: Cara Bertron

Idora neighborhood in Youngstown, Ohio | Credit: Cara Bertron

For many preservation advocates, planners, and others living and working in older industrial cities, a recent New York Times article on bulldozer-driven planning missed the point.

Preservation can be an effective tool for reshaping and revitalizing legacy cities and distressed areas, preservationists argue, but is largely overlooked by planners and others responsible for neighborhood stabilization. The Preservation Rightsizing Network (PRN) is a growing movement to not only amplify this argument, but to develop and share practical, on-the-ground tools for proving it.

The group brings together traditional preservation allies, as well as new voices invested in the present and future of older industrial cities: preservation professionals and engaged community members, but also planners, community developers, land bank officials, federal agency employees, sustainability advocates, academics, and diverse practitioners. Members envision the PRN as a collaborative network that facilitates sharing ideas, challenges, and good practices between towns, cities, and regions facing similar challenges.

PRN members are already doing impressive work in their own communities. In the network’s two meetings to date, there has only been enough time to share a fraction of local success stories and good practices. These come from a spread of geographic areas and sectors: formal relationships between preservation advocates at the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and the Detroit Land Bank Authority; the Cincinnati Preservation Society’s working partnerships with city code enforcement officials; efforts in St. Louis to spark tax credit projects through creative National Register historic district designations; the Cleveland Restoration Society’s Heritage Home Loan Program; and many more.

Yet these successes can feel dwarfed by the pressing reality of widespread vacancy and abandonment, continuing population loss, and policymakers who are focused on highly visible, immediately gratifying  demolitions. Even engaged preservationists with a long history of accomplishments may not be invited to the table when large-scale planning efforts—and small-scale demolition decisions—are happening. Furthermore, there is no forum for communicating local successes—and instructive failures—to others who are grappling with similar challenges in other communities.

Right Size, Right Place Forum

Strawberry Mansion in Philadelphia | Credit: Cara Bertron

Strawberry Mansion in Philadelphia | Credit: Cara Bertron

Participants at the first PRN forum, held in Philadelphia in September, faced some difficult questions head-on in roundtable discussions: Is demolition ever acceptable? When is mothballing appropriate? What are new ways to use vacant buildings? How can preservationists meaningfully engage in planning processes? What preservation tools can help drive neighborhood revitalization?

These questions were fresh for many participants who were coming from the Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference organized for the Center for Community Progress earlier in the week. That conference included one panel on preservation that was well attended, but most sessions focused on vacancy and abandonment, root causes like tax delinquency, and responses such as increased code enforcement, land banking, and greening vacant land.

Although it was not a preservation conference, cities’ built assets were a part of the conversation, from Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory’s vocal support of preservation during the opening plenary panel to a session on targeted community development (including rowhouse rehabilitation) in Baltimore. And the professional diversity represented by the conference attendees who continued to the PRN forum spoke to a broad willingness to recognize older and historic buildings and neighborhoods as one component of making communities both smaller and stronger.

To those of us who organized the forum, it also underscored the vital importance of engaging new participants: people who care deeply about older cities but who may not identify themselves as preservationists. Of the roughly 45 people at the meeting, just half worked for organizations, agencies, or private firms in the preservation field. The rest hailed from municipal planning departments, environmental organizations and agencies, planning and design firms, communications companies, community development corporations, and land banks. The final group discussion emphasized the importance of continuing to engage non-preservationists in the conversation for maximum impact.

Ideas from Indy

School in Muncie, IN converted to Senior Housing | Credit: Cara Bertron

School in Muncie, Ind., converted to senior housing | Credit: Cara Bertron

The second meeting of the PRN, held at the National Preservation Conference in Indianapolis, attracted a more traditional preservation crowd. Nearly 50 people gathered for a packed hour to hear about the network, discuss local challenges and successes, and refine the network’s goals, principles, and direction.

The group recognized that rightsizing is a marathon endeavor that requires full commitment and some compromises. The emerging PRN principles depart from traditional preservation ground by acknowledging that rightsizing includes both additive and subtractive elements—demolition and new infill as well as rehabilitation, relocation as well as mothballing. The principles also assert that historic preservation tools and older neighborhoods are essential to successful rightsizing and revitalization efforts, and commit PRN members to proactively engaging in and shaping planning and policy. (A full version of the network’s principles and goals is available online.

Moving Forward

Durant Hotel in Flint, MI | Credit: Cara Bertron

Durant Hotel in Flint, Mich. | Credit: Cara Bertron

The PRN aims to distill triumphs into preservation good practices—and to provide a forum for sharing ideas around persistent hurdles. Recent headlines highlight the pressing need for both. Even as a newly formed land bank in Syracuse  considers taking title to several prominent vacant commercial buildings as a way to spur rehabilitation, Michigan is receiving $100 million in Hardest Hit Fundsfrom the federal government for demolition of “blighted” buildings—teardowns that appear unlikely to go through Section 106 review—with more federal funding on the way. The demolition-as-planning article in The New York Times ran just a few days after two articles featuring preservation-inspired revitalization in Newburgh and Buffalo appeared on the same pages. PRN members were cheering, but with an eye to a long race.

The next PRN gathering will be held as part of Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities, an interdisciplinary convening in Cleveland in June 2014. Join us there if you can! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with the PRN on Facebook and its website.

Cara Bertron is the director of the Rightsizing Cities Initiative at PlaceEconomics and a co-founder of the Preservation Rightsizing Network.

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