Thursday, July 26, 2012

Historical Preservation Run Amok

I think preserving history is important.  For example, building a Wal-Mart on a Civil War battlefield might not be the best idea ever.  But it increasingly seems to be out of hand with not tearing down buildings being held as a normative status quo, even if the buildings preserved will serve no point and something better could be built.  We see this in an emerging fight over Shingle Creek Elementary on the far North Side of Minneapolis.  The school was built in the 1950's when there were a lot more kids in the Minneapolis Public Schools, especially in the Shingle Creek Neighborhood.  Things changed since the 50's, the city lost over 130,000 residents and got its demographics got older.  Then in the 90s and 00s thousands of school children left the Minneapolis system for suburban districts, especially from the North Side.  Accordingly. the school was closed in 2007 and has sat vacant ever since.  In fact it isn't even a working building, it's been striped of pipes and fixtures and is basically just an unheated brick shell with big holes in the roof and walls.  But people want it preserved and are outraged that a cash strapped district might want to unload this piece of property.  Their reason?

The case for doing so is based largely on the building's design, which features clusters of classrooms connected by enclosed walkways. It's the city's sole example of this design concept from the 1950s, an era that some architectural historians consider under-appreciated.

Got that?  Its historic because it has classrooms connected by walkways.  Now maybe that is some huge architectural achievement, but it you are going to argue that the building needs to be preserved because its important as it "features clusters of classrooms connected by enclosed walkways", isn't every building every built arguably historic?  Can an abandoned strip mall be "historic, as it features shop fronts connected by a common sheltered walkway, with a parking lot"?  I personally think our city would be better served by building density and a property tax base not preserving everything with four walls and a roof.  Cities have always been changing, dynamic things (what was torn to build this school by the way?) and we shouldn't let a small group of people's obsession with trying to turn their neighborhood into a frozen moment in time stop us from making our city better.  Besides, if we are going to preserve something, lets find something that looks good, not something that looks like a Borg ship.

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