New York City, like many of the most beloved cities in the world, is one that continuously strives to balance the old with the new. Hot new restaurants, stores, and apartment buildings seem to pop up everywhere you look, while beloved joints and classic, historic buildings stand their ground as fixtures in neighborhoods and in the skyline. This juxtaposition is quite a feat and gives NYC much of its character. But when, some wonder, does holding on to the past prevent the development of the future? The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is being asked that question on a regular basis.
The Real Estate Board of New York stated last month that nearly 30% of Manhattan properties are now landmarked, deemed so by the LPC. The LPC’s focus is to preserve and protect buildings and landscapes of historical significance in order to safeguard the city’s historic, aesthetic, and cultural heritage. The Commission was developed after the 1964 destruction of the old Penn Station in order to create Madison Square Garden. Many would say, “well, wasn’t that a good thing, now we have MSG?” One could argue yes, but those in favor of conserving historical sites would argue that it was a desecration. A property must be at least thirty years old before the Commission can declare it a landmark. In some neighborhoods, such as the Upper West Side and SoHo/Greenwich Village, that describes the majority of buildings, with areas determined to be landmarks now reaching 70% in those neighborhoods.
While preservationists and fans of landmarking are thrilled with the rigorous ruling and defending of historic sites, others see this as an oppression of progress and development. Proponents against landmarking argue that the more buildings and areas that are protected, the less affordable neighborhoods become and the more job creation and important economic development initiatives are being stifled. They contend that the LPC is limiting available property in a city already short on supply. Complying with landmark standards can be costly and property and rental prices increase as the ability to develop new housing or businesses are constricted. There are also currently 48 vacant lots and 50 parking lots, totaling 2.6 million square feet of development potential, that are unable to be worked with due to their location on Manhattan landmarked properties.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission continues to be successful in its attempt to preserve historic sites, despite the debates. There are currently eight neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens that are pending to be considered historic districts and may join the approximately 50 others already bearing the title, including the South Village Historic District. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has been campaigning for this since 2003. Whichever side of the debate you may fall on, it is fair to consider each side of the issue. No one can imagine NYC without the Chrysler, Empire State, Woolworth, and Flatiron buildings. No one would want to. But the necessity will be balance: safeguarding monuments and areas rich in history while allowing for new, progressive developments, in order to create the diverse and dynamic architectural landscape New York City is known for.