Urbanism and Historic Preservation

by Don Friedman on December 6, 2016

The Friends’ Meeting House in Flushing, a seventeenth-century building now within the city boundaries:

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It’s always good to have reasons for your opinions. As I’ve stated several times, I believe – and Old Structures has a basic premise – that saving old buildings is a good idea in itself. Thanks to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, we have some statistics we can look at from their Atlas of Reurbanism. Having stats doesn’t give you answers, but it allows you to put some context to historical facts. For example, looking at the first table in the Next City article, we see that New York has a relatively low percentage of buildings constructed before 1920, even though the city is one of the oldest on the list. The reason is simple: the oldest portions of New York have seen continuous reconstruction for hundreds of years, with the current building on any given lot in downtown Manhattan standing a good chance of being the second or third (or sometimes fourth) building on that site.

That table shows the peak years of development for the various cities, with development in Buffalo almost disappearing after World War II, while the current building stock of Phoenix barely existed before the war. The types of buildings in different locations and the technologies used to construct those buildings varies, which is why I keep talking about local knowledge.

The whole report is worth a read. It’s full of data that provides a different view of the AEC and planning worlds. The New York subsection gives data that backs up the gut feeling so many of us have: the most interesting and diverse parts of the city are those with a mix of building ages and types.

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