The Facts: Historic Preservation in the Lower West Side since September 11

On every street in Lower Manhattan south of the World Trade Center site, there seems to be some new large development project. Historians and local residents complain about constant construction and losing historic buildings and context. But what has happened all together? How can we step back and review the impact? The Washington Street Advocacy Group has prepared a new report chronicling these developments and offering policy recommendations to address the threat to New York City’s and the United States’s physical heritage. Here are some key realizations and figures.

 

Fig. 1

Review of status of historic structures

Nearly eighteen years since September 11, 2001 and over fifteen years after the advancement of a new historic district south of the World Trade Center site, we should review the status of local historic preservation. The results are disturbing. Among thirty-eight non-landmark-designated buildings that an emergency coalition of prominent preservation groups identified as worthy of protection after a comprehensive survey in 2003, over one-third, 35%, have now been demolished or are about to be.

 


 

Fig. 2

Bias against Lower Manhattan versus fashionable residential neighborhoods.

This heat map reveals the basic bias against Lower Manhattan, and in favor of fashionable and wealthy residential neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Cobble Hill. The Lower West Side and the Lower East Side, both important in American immigration history, have self-evidently very little protection proportionally. Without the ability to establish or expand a historic district, advocates are forced to make enormous efforts over decades to save a even quite important single landmark structure.

 
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Summary

Time seems to be running out. The voluntary destruction of the physical heritage of Lower Manhattan should be seen as a harsh verdict on development priorities since 2001. However, if we acknowledge the risks of the status quo and consider some reasonable recommendations, we can prevent some additional permanent loss of important heritage.