Tell The New York Times What You Think About Preservation

Preservation is under fire….from The New York Times! In two recent NYT articles, NYT architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff and New Republic architecture critic Sarah Williams Goldhagen separately accuse the preservation community of working hand in hand with governments and developers to gentrify, emasculate, sanitize and pretty much ruin the world for everyone else. HDC believes that these articles gravely misstate the role of preservation practices in urban planning and portray the community of neighborhood preservationists as narrow-minded zealots unconcerned with the overall health of our cities, so we’re asking everyone interested in preservation to voice their opinion to the editors of The New York Times.

In a recent opinion piece,  “Death By Nostalgia”,  Sarah Williams Goldhagen calls current preservation practices “a recipe for aesthetic insipidity and urban incoherence” which is the fault of “weak local governments, powerful real estate interests and untrained panels”. Her answer to this “unwieldy behemoth…[this] four-headed monster”  is that “city planning offices must be returned to their former, powerful role”. Ms. Goldhagen believes that  “professionals trained in aesthetics and urban issues” must lead the way to a modernized future, rather than “overly empowered preservation boards, staffed by amateurs casting their nets too widely and indiscriminately” with “little sense how those decisions affect the surrounding neighborhood”. One of the more disturbing elements of this argument is that it comes from the elite and complains that the wrong elite is in charge. Evidently, we are supposed to trust the Sky Father Master Planners to create the “livable, attract and vibrant urban spaces and architecture” New York should be. 

Ms. Goldhagen’s revanchist view of urban planning history is not surprising considering her departure point was Rem Koolhaas’s recent New Museum exhibition “Cronocaos” where Mr. Koolhaas employed his considerable skills “as a provocateur, [to paint] a picture of an army of well-meaning but clueless preservationists who, in their zeal to protect the world’s architectural legacies, end up debasing them by creating tasteful scenery for docile consumers while airbrushing out the most difficult chapters of history”. Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote a fairly glowing review of the exhibit  in which he stated that while “not all of [Koolhaas’s] ideas are viable; some seem intended mainly to challenge conventional wisdom about preservation and its benefits…Mr. Koolhaas’s bigger point is worth paying attention to: in the realm of preservation, as in so much else, we seem to have become a world terrified of too much direct contact with reality.”

HDC believes that these arguments denigrate preservation and the community of preservationists. While we are flattered to be thought of as the hidden masters of the urban world, this level of public decrial cannot go unanswered.  Write to The New York Times – flood their inboxes with your feelings about preservation.

Read the articles yourself  – Ms. Goldhagen’s article particularly has some very valid points about “the outsize power of private developers” and the “absence of other, complementary tools to manage urban development” as well as the political pressures brought to bear on land-use decisions:

An Architect’s Fear That Preservation Distorts

Death By Nostalgia

Agree with them? Disagree?

Let’s open this conversation up and get The New York Times to actually talk about what preservation in New York really is.

To submit a letter to The New York Times, email [email protected]  or fax (212) 556-3622.

The letter should only be sent to The Times (they do not publish open letters, third-party letters or letters submitted to other publications and they don’t accept attachments).

Letters for publication should be no longer than 150 words, must refer to an article that has appeared within the last seven days, and must include the writer’s address and phone numbers.

Posted Under: Alert, Planning, The Politics of Preservation

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