Sunday, February 15, 2009

Uptown's History's Not History Yet!

Good news for you historians, historical preservationists, and anyone who thinks "character" is impacted as much by the historical layers of a neighborhood as by height: the Wedge (LHENA) has announced that the neighborhood is officially starting a Historic Preservation Committee. Among other things, committee members will attempt to establish a LHENA historic district.

The Wedge is filled with a plethora of historic homes, as well as historic commercial and industrial buildings. A historic district will focus attention on this historic heritage, and, one hopes, assist the neighborhood when it comes to preserving and maintaining these interesting and attractive properties in the long run.

Too often Uptown's history is overlooked. Yes, people know that the area has been around a long time, and yes, many people like the old homes, but a focus on historic architecture or landscapes tends to be folded into vague statements about neighborhood character. The Uptown Small Area Plan, for all of its many strengths, failed to adequately address this issue. Maybe this committee will help to make historic preservation a larger, or at least more visible, issue in Uptown.

The historic preservationists should be careful, however, to remember that historic architecture is not the be-all, end-all of a neighborhood's historic character. Cities are an evolving thing, and the best urban neighborhoods incorporate both the past and the present in a vibrant, living thing. Some preservationists also get bogged down by architects and architecture; I urge the members of this new LHENA committee to spend equal time thinking about historical elements beyond simply interesting or quality historic architecture. Buildings did not exist in a void, and the Wedge may have non-building historic elements deserving of preservation. Those could include things such as gardens, industrial spaces, or other landscapes. Cultural history, too, should be considered. In short, historic preservation is not just about the "best" examples of an architectural style.

Finally, another common fault with neighborhood preservationist movements is to too often focus exclusively on homes. LHENA is also home to some interesting commercial and industrial properties - the Greenway, for example, runs through its southern end and shouldn't lose sight of its industrial heritage - and these should be included in any discussion of potential Wedge historic districts.

Hats off to the Wedge and its residents for their commitment to considering the role of the past in the shaping of the future.

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