Greater Greater Washington

Another historic resource is threatened: parking lots

A group of preservationists in Cincinnati are very worried about a precious historic resource disappearing: surface parking lots in the center city.

As you might have guessed from the titles warning about how the 273 parking lots have tragically dwindled to 270, this is satirical, and was actually an April Fool's joke which Streetsblog recently pointed out.

Some people talk about preserving parking lots and aren't joking. Sometimes, it's because they really feel a parking lot is part of history (though it's still debatable if that's worth freezing these forever in time). At other times, this is a strategy to stop a new building, not because of history, but because people don't want the building.

In a place like Cincinnati which is not growing rapidly, preservation is not often blocking housing affordability. There, there are many old and unique buildings which simply need to be preserved. Doing so wouldn't drive people out of the city; if anything, it'll make the center city a more desirable place to live.

In DC, there are also such buildings which contribute to making the city better, but for the most part they already are preserved. The day-to-day preservation fights are not about the architectural jewels but about whether historic preservation is also a tool to simply stop neighborhoods from having more new residents.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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Is it still April 1?

by DaveG on Jul 3, 2014 12:23 pm • linkreport

Haha, I have to say from my last trip to Cincinatti that city has some great bones. Hopefully they can get the transit part figured out.

by BTA on Jul 3, 2014 12:30 pm • linkreport

For those looking for actual news, http://planitmetro.com/2014/07/03/new-blue-line-connections-revisited/

by JDC on Jul 3, 2014 1:08 pm • linkreport

David, I can't find anything I've written about parking lots that suggests "freezing these forever in time." And, if parking lots are not part of history -- bad history as far as planning and the environment -- but history nonetheless, what are they? Does ignoring them in historic preservation planning and regulatory review accomplish the same end result as China's recent treatment of events in 1989? All my recent posts intended were to stimulate thinking about the best ways to deal with difficult and unlovable historic resources.

by David Rotenstein on Jul 3, 2014 1:14 pm • linkreport

Over the Rhine neighborhood is a national treasure. Its what DC should look like today if the city leaders had the foresight to stop some ridiculous development projects.

by Brian on Jul 3, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

"Yet, as With Heritage So Rich‘s authors aptly predicted in 1966, many people — especially those who subscribe to New Urbanism’s call to retrofit suburbia — are easily persuaded that anything new is better than an old parking lot."

In general those people are correct. I'm hard pressed to think of an example where they are incorrect.

" Even historic preservationists with the best intentions find themselves overlooking and minimizing the historical significance of suburban commercial landscapes, i.e., parking lots."

This seems to conflate the lot itself with the shopping center or whatever behind it.

And I am very wary of the consequences of givin HP status to mid century shopping centers - its already a problem in North Arlington.

I believe the main purpose of HP is to preserve historically notable and architecturally worthy buildings, not to preserve examples of every type or style of constructed thing. Even if it is - even if its necessary to keep at least a few shopping centers with big parking lots as examples - such things are not exactly scare. They were built in much larger numbers than say, 19th century churches, and in large areas the economics does not come close to supporting their replacement. Indeed new ones continue to be constructed to this day. To use HP to block their replacment in the handful of urban and inner suburban areas where that is happening seems perverse to me.

Are there examples of urban forms considered as in need of historic preservation, as endanger forms, at the same time that new examples continued to be built?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 3, 2014 1:28 pm • linkreport

Why doesn't GGW get on the Capitol's ass about its many surface lots? One of the worst offenders in the city.

by Col. Brentwood on Jul 3, 2014 1:44 pm • linkreport

@ Col. Brentwood, they do, just the other day in fact: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/23019/dcs-most-useless-park-is-a-parking-lot-in-disguise/

by Chris on Jul 3, 2014 2:26 pm • linkreport

Realistically no one can tell the Capitol what to do. Even DC is largely powerless when it comes to federal lands.

by BTA on Jul 3, 2014 5:23 pm • linkreport

DC's HPRB has already found fit to designate at least two historic parking lots, and both only as fits of pure NIMBY pique. The "Park & Shop" right above the Cleveland Park Metro was the first to be designated, even though it sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the genuinely nationally notable streetcar retail fabric that the Chevy Chase Land Company created along upper Connecticut Avenue. Even if this was among the first D.C. examples of a minimall, the minimall type was hardly invented here (actually in Baltimore, IIRC), and is not exactly rare. Other minimalls can be reached within minutes by anyone with, well, a car.

The second is the parking lot at 3rd & M St. SW, also right next to a Metro station, which was designated as an attempt to strongarm a developer into not developing the site. The HPRB nomination form admits that I.M. Pei had almost nothing to do with the designated building, but somehow "the open ground plane" (i.e., forlorn space that serves no human purpose and certainly no ecological purpose) has become sacred.

by Payton Chung on Jul 3, 2014 6:06 pm • linkreport

Misleading title aside. Very interesting points on the different uses of historical preservation in stagnant cities v. prospering cities. From my experiences in the rust belt, HP has widespread community support with a severe lack of funds; HP is a method of preventing decay in neighborhoods that have seen zero investment since they burned 60s/70s. In DC we have the opposite problem--we are dealing with the collateral damage from rapid reinvestment in burnt-out neighborhoods-- and HP has become a tool to prevent progress.

by Administrator on Jul 4, 2014 8:47 am • linkreport

Except that preservationists "saved" those very neighborhoods during DC's period of decline so they are desirable today.

by William on Jul 4, 2014 5:37 pm • linkreport

William, that's it. They didn't save history so much as saving urbanism. Historic preservation was a good tool at the time to save the urban fabric from large scale eradication by urban renewal. Today I don't think urbanism is particularly under threat.

by spookiness on Jul 5, 2014 1:21 pm • linkreport

They also save character in many cases. HPRB is doing Nimby's dirty work by designating old strip malls in CLeveland Park while Petworth, 14th street and 16 threet heights are undesignated.

This is what hurts their credibility when they actually do a very valuable job. Cleveland Park's main street could accomodate a lot more density while still preserving their character, yet its sister streetcar suburb, Petworth, developed at the same time goes undesignated.

For that matter, New York, Rohde Island and Georgia Avenue all have tremendous potential for (new) street car development while still retaining many of thier lovely early 20th century buildings, if HPRB would get in their and develope a vision based on what's existing.

by Thayer-D on Jul 6, 2014 4:50 am • linkreport

Nice to see a good ol' fashioned "all preservation is just NIMBYism" post. Stay classy GGW. "In DC, there are also such buildings which contribute to making the city better, but for the most part they already are preserved." Yep, we got 'em all! Time to close up shop and let those altruistic developers have at it!

by Daniel on Jul 7, 2014 1:34 pm • linkreport

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