Historic Preservation is a Good Thing
Historic preservation is a good thing, when for example it is used to restore City Hall or re-purpose the Grain Exchange because it adds value to Milwaukee. Unfortunately, when in the name of historic preservation “creative lawyering” is used to save a high-priced view or a surface parking lot, it isn’t such a good thing. These are just two of examples of how historic preservation laws have been distorted in attempts to stop development projects instead of saving historic structures. I believe that the spirit of historic preservation regulations are to save significant structures when possible and to encourage their adaptive re-use so these buildings can be enjoyed long in to the future.
In the case of the Downer Avenue redevelopment residents attempted to utilize preservation laws to stop the construction of a parking garage and additional structures. Although a parking garage isn’t an ideal use or especially impressive architecture, neither was what it replaced, a surface parking lot. Related parts of the project involved restoration of multiple deteriorating buildings and enhancement of another previously altered structure. It is fair to oppose the development project on its merits, but in the end the project will achieve many preservation goals that should be supported by the preservation movement.
It is important to question these efforts because when actions are taken in the name of “historic preservation”, but aren’t truly about historic preservation, this takes away from legitimate preservation efforts. And legitimate preservation is vitally important to the City of Milwaukee. One of the great features of our city is its wonderful mix of old and new buildings because this creative re-use of existing structures ties our past to our future, adds character to our streets, creates a unique sense of place and maintains the urban fabric. The unfortunate truth, is that it is often convenient to utilize historic preservation laws to save a view, slow progress, and protect the status quo.