This is a preservation post cross-posted at Built Chicago.
Preservation Chicago has offered its latest list of the most endangered buildings in Chicago. This year they are:
1. Chicago Landmarks Ordinance
2. American Book Company Building
3. Devon Avenue Commercial District
4. Grant Park
5. Booker Building
6. Daily News Building and Plaza
7. Norwood Park
Most notable from my perspective is the Landmarks Ordinance. As Lynn Becker and others have exclaimed in the last year since the Farwell Building controversy, Landmarks Commission decisions may mean the ordinance has no meaning, offers no protection for the landmark buildings.
However, the ordinance is going to turn 40 this year and, with the rest of the preservation movement, it is time to develop a new philosophy of preservation, new strategies, and new legal mechanisms for promoting retention of important structures and accommodating new development
The modern preservation movement was nationalized with LBJ’s launch of the Great Society programs, resulting in the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act creating the National Register of Historic Places and followed by state-level legislation providing for protection of individual properties or districts based on historic criteria and development patterns. The legal basis for preservation protection, like zoning, has been the police power inherent in state and federal constitutions to protect the health, safety, welfare, and morals of the people (see Euclid v. Ambler).
However, a large part of the strategies and justifications of the preservation movement were devised during a period of urban decentralization and urban renewal efforts that sought to modernize and redevelop buildings, sites and neighborhoods in an entirely different (and auto-oriented) mode. This period has largely ended and the middle-class has been tending to move back into central cities for the last 10 to 20 years (depending on the metro region). Within this new development and demographic context, planners and architects have been working to reforming the prevailing zoning regime to promote density and multi-modal transportation options. It is time for the preservation movement to do the same. Instead of simply focusing on protection and fighting redevelopment, it is time to better incentivize adaptive re-use and to join with the environmental movement to develop a new impetus and set of tools for preservation. There is no political movement in the U.S. (and possibly worldwide) with a bigger upside than the green movement in its many forms, with its potential to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and combat global climate change.
Federal research from the last energy crisis indicates a third of the energy a building will use in its lifespan is embedded in the construction materials that make up the foundation, the walls, the roof, the windows and doors, etc. Even the greenest new development can’t compete with the savings of leaving an existing building standing. Let us reconsider the landmarks ordinance and the way we go about preservation in the Chicago region in general, from something negative and oppositional to something positive and proactive.