The Abuse of Historic Preservation
Saving and restoring historic buildings is vital to any city. The mixture of styles, ages, heights, and character helps to create an interesting vibrant urban environment. Further, it is useful to have a mix of buildings with differing ages, because this allows for a variety of rental prices which allows new businesses to grow in old buildings. Unfortunately, these goals and ideals are far too often not why historic designation of buildings is implemented in Milwaukee. More often not our historic preservation laws are utilized for anti-development purposes, ensuring the status quo instead of pro-preservation and the redevelopment of existing buildings.
On Downer Avenue residents and New Land Enterprises bickered over if a surface parking lot could be developed or not, because it abutted a historic district. Along Prospect Avenue residents of 1522 On the Lake attempted to stop the building of Transera, by arguing it was on the same property as the Goll Mansion and therefore it couldn’t be developed as a high-rise. In both cases some level of actual restoration of neighboring buildings was part of the proposal, but these goals were not given much weight by those in opposition to the projects. In both cases the historic preservation laws were twisted in an attempt to preserve the status quo, and in the case of the Transera project to preserve a view, not to preserve any historic buildings.
All of these projects have one thing in common, the majority of the opposition wasn’t really about historic preservation. The process shouldn’t be utilized to protect a view, keep low-income residents out, or stop the construction of a new building in the neighborhood. It should be used to save historic structures, and encourage their adaptive re-use. If historic preservation is worthwhile and to be valued, then the process shouldn’t be tainted. This abuse must stop.