Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I implore you: Please Landmark Trico Plant #1

This letter was sent to Buffalo's Common Council by Derek King, Architectural Historian at Preservation Studios, but due to its editorial nature, is being republished here. If you would like to contact the Common Council, please see this post for more information.

To the members of Buffalo's Common Council,

It is with little hyperbole that I write to you saying that tomorrow you make an important decision, not just about a building, but about the ideological commitment of this city toward sustainable development, to environmental consciousness, and to protecting and celebrating Buffalo's history.

I won't belabor the point, because I'm sure many of you, if not all, have received innumerable e-mails on the topic. While I hope you won't begrudge me for taking advantage of my democratic right to contact you tonight, I will still attempt to keep my points brief.

Historic preservation has moved beyond mere commemoration and restoration, though many have yet to realize it. It is fitting that the Tax Reform Act of 1976 came on the 200th anniversary of our nation's founding: this act, which introduced the first financial incentives to rehabilitate historic structures, assisted in saving many important buildings that would otherwise fallen to ruin.

It also anticipated the problems of today, and of 2026, and of 2076, namely that the buildings that defined our social and cultural history would not, and often could not, be saved without financial assistance. That the anchors to our past, and to what made us great, would be gone.

Buffalo is blessed with an overabundance of these reminders. We have dozens, if not hundreds, of factories that highlight the city's industrial past. We have office buildings that demonstrate one-hundred years of the city's role at the center of not only Western New York's financial world but of the Mid-West. As an attendee of the recent Society of Architectural Historians' conference, held here from April 10-14th, I can tell you that both the buildings designed by Wright, Sullivan, and Richardson, and the neighborhoods full of some of the oldest housing stock in the nation, were the source of amazement and jealousy of historians from around the country.

Much of the city already knows the value of historic preservation, and the successes are almost too many to mention; Allentown, Shea's, the Hotel Lafayette. 
Every year, more and more of the city is being surveyed for potential historic districts, more important than ever due to the NY State historic tax credit for homeowners. Many of you need not look outside of your own districts for the successful rehabilitation of buildings similar to Trico: The Tri-Main Center, the Bethune Lofts, Artspace, the AC Lofts, the Larkin Exchange Building, and 95 Perry St. 

Yet, despite all of this, City Hall still appears to lag behind. Even though the city touted the importance of preservation in the Comprehensive Plan outlined in 2006, and its new Green Code is dramatically influenced by preservation as well, it always seems as though preservation falls to the wayside in favor of another "shovel-ready" site, or for a silver-bullet project.

Historic preservation is not just about protecting the aesthetically pleasing, or the monumentally important, but about the fabric that binds and connects us, not just to our past, but to the future. Again this is not hyperbole: preservation is an act of sustainable development, which by it's most commonly accepted definition is "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Economically, the destruction of the past is frugally irresponsible, not only for the astronomic cost of demolition (particularly for concrete-reinforced steel buildings like Trico), but perpetuates the new-replacing-old cycle we've fallen into over the last half-century. Environmentally speaking, demolition in this city pushes more and more reusable buildings into the landfill, wasting millions of tons of material (and, coincidentally, driving up disposal costs).

Regardless of whether this has swayed you or bored you, the fact remains that historic preservation is not just a matter of nostalgic fervor, but of sound economic and environment policy. Cities around the world and country understand this, and the people and organizations in Buffalo understand this, but the leadership of the city has yet to fully embrace this reality.

I implore you, not only to make a stand for Trico, and the role it has held in our city's past, but to make an ideological statement that rebukes 60 years of anti-preservation policy and action, and demonstrates a commitment to responsible progress not only for the present, but the future of Buffalo

Please Landmark Trico Plant #1.

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