The value of historic preservation is often expressed in terms that are difficult to quantify. We are preserving cultural patrimony, maintaining a sense of place, safeguarding our architectural heritage.
But what if we could hang a number on the value of historic preservation?Â Actually, we can.
Look at tax credits issued for rehabbing historic properties. Montgomery County provides a 10-percent tax credit for qualified work on properties listed in the Countyâ€™s Master Plan for Historic Preservation or located in County-designated historic districts. The State of Maryland and federal government also offer rehabilitation tax credits that some property owners may be able to receive on top of the countyâ€™s program.
In 2012, the historic preservation commission reviewed applications for the county’s preservation tax credit program, recommending approval of $74,000 of tax credits for 56 projects.
The projects totaled $740,000 in investments in historic properties in Montgomery County. More of these dollars — paid to roofers, carpenters, painters, masons, and other contractors — stay local than dollars invested in other construction sectors.Â These dollars are cycled through our economy as these contractors purchase building materials, buy lunch or coffee, and pay their mortgage or rent.Â In fact, a Rutgers study found that 75 percent of the economic impact of historic preservation investments stays in the community.
Federal and state studies across the county also point to the local economic benefit generated by historic preservation. Â According to a Colorado study, every $1 million invested to rehabilitate historic buildings creates 32 new jobs (another way to think about this is one job is created for every $31,250Â invested in a rehab project). In fact, historic preservation projects in Colorado, the study said, led to the creation of nearly 35,000 jobs and $2.5 billion â€“ billion â€“ in economic impacts since 1981.
Closer to home, Governor Oâ€™Malley reported in 2010 that Marylandâ€™s tax credit program had generated $1.5 billion in direct rehabilitation investments and $8.50 in economic output for every $1 of tax credits.Â Oâ€™Malley pointed to Abell Foundation research that found that this investment in historic preservation created 1,850 more jobs than would have been created by an equal investment in new construction. Furthering these findings, economist Donovan Rypkema determined that jobs created by historic preservation outpace jobs created through the federal stimulus program. Rypkema compared one federal historic preservation program to the federal stimulus program and found that the preservation program created one job for every $13,780 invested, while the stimulus program created one job for every $248,000. Thatâ€™s a big difference.
By whatever metrics you want to use, it is clear that investment in historic resources creates jobs, circulates money in the local economy, and expands the countyâ€™s tax revenues.
So while part of the reason we do historic preservation is to retain the character of what makes Montgomery County a distinct and desirable place to live, work, and visit, we cannot overlook the numbers that demonstrate the significant contributions historic preservation makes to Montgomery Countyâ€™s economy.
Postscript: If you own an individually designated historic site or property within a Montgomery County historic district and have completed any rehabilitation work in calendar year 2012, you can apply for county tax credits.Â The application deadline has been extended to April 15, 2013.
As many of you know, two streetcar lines are proposed for Arlington County: one along Columbia Pike and one through Crystal City.
Many of the benefits of the transit system are laid out in the planning vision for Columbia Pike & Crystal City, including:
- Encouraging smart development;
- Providing attractive, comfortable, affordable transit,
- Encouraging revitalization, preservation, and affordability, and
- Spurring investment.
Another aspect of the project, however, is a commitment to integrate public art.Â In this case, Barbara Bernstein has been commissioned to create works for several bus shelters along the Crystal City line.Â Prototypes, renderings, and sample designs were on view until recently at the Arlington Arts Center, but information can still be found on their website.
The proposed artworks are large glass panels that will provide windscreens in addition to enhancing the beauty and interest of each stop.Â The designs themselves are swirling, waving, looping, interconnected lines meant to serve as a metaphor for the interconnected layout of the system and the lives of the passengers.Â As the lines randomly intersect they create shapes â€“ some of which are filled with color, while others create a background of negative space.Â Each station will have a distinct color palette that will provide a visual means of identification for each stop.
The panels are pretty, well-composed, and eye-catching but also serve a functional purpose as wayfinding guides.Â Like many transit-oriented artworks, the identification of a site with a motif or specific installation is an important piece of a well-integrated and designed transit system.
Of course, Montgomery County is in the midst of planning a wide-ranging rapid transit system.Â We would be wise to encourage public art integration in our system for many reasons, some of which were discussed in a recent panel discussion at the National Building Museum on Cultural Investments: Economic Impact of the Arts.Â This discussion was part of a three-part series, Culture as Catalyst: Past, Present, Future.Â (The third program, Industry to Art: Revitalizing Cities through Culture will be held on April 10, 2013.)
Robert Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, summarized the basic economic impact of the arts industry at the discussion and also in an article at Huffington Post last June:
â€śOf the $135.2 billion of economic activity generated by America’s arts industry, $61.1 billion comes from the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations and $74.1 billion from event-related expenditures by their audiences. This economic activity supports 4.1 million full-time jobs and produces $22.3 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year — a yield well beyond their collective $4 billion in arts allocations.â€ť
See the Arts and Economic Prosperity IV website for more information on national and specific local findings.
- Establishing â€śbrandâ€ť and community identity;
- Making use of and beautifying infrastructure;
- Creating vibrancy and interest;
- Provoking emotional investment;
- Enhancing pedestrian and user comfort; and
- Telling stories of culture, history, process, or environment.
If we ever get the Silver Spring Transit Station finished, maybe another icon of transit-related public art, â€śPenguin Rush Hourâ€ť by Sally Callmer, can be renovated and reinstalled.Â Letâ€™s start the fund-raising now!
Tucked in among subdivisions and stream valleys, the Countyâ€™s historically black settlements reflect a history that traces back to the Countyâ€™s earliest days.
In 1790, local tobacco plantation were worked by slaves, who made up one third of the Countyâ€™s population. Josiah Henson, whose memoirs inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tomâ€™s Cabin,Â described the conditions.
â€śIn a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women, and children. All ideas of refinement and decency were, of course, out of the question.â€ť
But alongside planatations, the Countyâ€™s Sandy Spring Quaker community freed its slaves in 1770, conveying to them land for a church and dwellings. Sandy Spring would also become a key stop on the Underground Railroad.
After the Civil War, in 1870, the black population was still about a third of the Countyâ€”36 percent. Freed slaves bought or were given land, sometimes by former ownersâ€”and transformed scrub fields into agricultural homesteads. Over 40 African-American communities have been identified, often anchored by churches that were used as schools and social centers, surrounded by log and later frame houses.Today, many of these communities retain their strong cultural identification, associated with generations of families. As the County developed, these agricultural communities were surrounded by new development, yet they live on, as tight-knit and distinct communities. Some like Lyttonsville, celebrate that history. Others, like Tobytown, struggle with it.
Visit here, for more Black History MonthÂ events in Maryland
How strongly do you feel about your front yard? Is it a reflection of you and your family; the landscape equivalent of putting on a clean shirt in the morning?
As we’ve said before, there are rules for life in suburbia, some written and many more unwritten. And lately, some of the more obscure written rules about front-yard vegetable gardens are being read and interpreted, not always in favor of cucumbers. As this New York Times article points out, one neighbor’s “suitable” groundcover is another’s eyesore.
And as we’ve pointed out before, there are plenty of personal and community benefits to front-yardÂ vegetable gardens. In fact, some communities, like Santa Monica, encourage digging up the lawn for a more food- and environment-friendly landscape.
In Montgomery County, they’reÂ legal by code. Typically, itâ€™s HOA covenants that restrict them.Â One of the progressive pushes we made in the Zoning Ordinance rewrite is for more forms of urban farming and local food production.
Community Gardens, Farming, Animal Husbandry, and Farm Markets are allowed in all zones â€“ albeit with some restrictions in the non-Agricultural/Rural zones.
At a panel discussion in late October, where architect David M. Childs of SOM received the George White Award for Excellence in Public Architecture from the American Architectural Foundation, the notion of joy in planning came up.
Amid discussions of floor area ratio, compatibility, function, and infrastructure, bringing up joy seems frivolousÂ in the least, perhaps even foolish.
Childs recalled that he and George White, the ninth Architect of the Capital between 1971 and 1996, proposed allowing ice skating on the reflecting pool, an idea that was quickly dismissed as not serious.
But imagine the feeling of gliding between Lincoln and Washington. That stretch of city would become a place for people as well as a place for history. I love pedaling in the bike lanes down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue; it is my opportunity to participate in the monumental avenue.
Architectural historian Vincent Scully wrote “Flags snap, high heels tap: a little sex and aggression, the city’s delights.” It is oneÂ of my favorite quotes about urban life and environment. It captures the anything-can-happen excitement of downtown.Â He takes delight in the urban physcial environment and the social environment that it provides a stage for.
So how do you incentivize joy in project review? I donâ€™t think it can be quantified or measured, but it is something that you know when you see.Â I hope there is room to create joy in between the regulations.
And consider as well how joy can contribute to sustainability, by using one place for many purposes. Layering uses is an efficient appraoch to resourcesâ€”good planning by any measure.
About fifty people attended an open house at the Planning Department last weekend. Of all the intelligent questions and interesting conversations I had with people who stopped at the historic preservation station, my favorite was with an elementary school-aged girl who came in with her mom and younger brother. Our conversation went something like this.
I asked if the girl if knew what historic preservation was. She shrugged. I pointed to a display with photos of some old buildings, including a house in Takoma Park that had been abandoned and condemned but has recently been rehabilitated, sold, and is again lived in. She offered that preservation was about saving old buildings. Then I asked if she knew why historic preservation was important. A slight hesitation. A prompt from her mom about the three Rs. That was all it took. The girl took on an expression of understanding and confidence.
She told me that historic preservation is important because it was better to reuse buildings than to throw them in the trash.
Yes! This girl got it. OK, it took a slight prompt from her mom. But she got it. She was thinking differently. It is better to reuse buildings than to throw them in the trash.
I wonâ€™t claim that this girl will become a preservationist because of our brief conversation at the Planning Department open house (although I hope she does). But this young girl â€“ and her mom â€“ made my day. And they gave all of us something to think about. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. This environmental credo is a big part of why I think historic preservation is not just important, but essential. Perhaps â€“ just perhaps â€“ as this girl and her little brother grow up there will come a time that more of us will apply the three Rs to our buildings, when it will be just as second nature to reuse a building as it is to refill a reusable water bottle.
The District’s plan for eco-friendly redevelopmentÂ in Southwest Washington is a big one, but M-NCPPC environmental planner Tina Schneider points out that one of the plan’s small elementsÂ could apply in Montgomery County.
Alternating tree panels with stormwater panels is a way to slow and filter run-off while enhancing streetscape. The County requires stormwater management treatment, but it’s often easiest to use methods that have already recieved approval than to try something new. And, let’s admit it, there’s a lot of competition for the limited right-of way space. We want to make room for bicycles, streetscaped sidewalks, and–oh yeah–cars. It can also be a challenge to thread a new drainage path among existing underground infrastructure.
But other places have managed it–you can see lots of pictures of the Indianapolis Cutlural Trail here, happy bike riders, cars, and planted panels.
It really speaks to what a complex environment a street is, one made more complex by competing interests vieing for a limited resource–space.Â But that’s what planning is all about. And don’t forget that roads and streets are our most prevalent and visible public spaces; they deserve coordinated design attention.
PS–one of my first questions was about mosquitos. Stormwater panels are designed to drain withinÂ 24 hours, less time than it takes mosquitos to get–ahem–comfortable.
We grew up as planners learning that shopping malls sapped downtown of its energy–whether it was small town retailers wiped out by the mall just over the county line or urban retail boulevards gutted of life as suburbanites left the city to follow jobs and the shopping followed them.
Over time, downtowns began to reimage themselves as malls. Beginning in 1980, The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program was based on that very premise, organizing disparate retailers to work together on signage, opening hours, seasonal sales, and marketing.
Federal Realty took it one step further, simply buying up retail streets in places like Westport, Connecticut and Bethesda, Maryland to create a single, curated retail environment from brick pavers to street trees.
As main streets became newly invigorated environments drawing people to hang out, stroll, and by-the-way, spend money,Â shopping malls emptied out.Â Now, malls are again tracking downtown, as this New York Times article notes, by becoming more experiential places.
Though the article focuses on online competition for mall retail, one executive is quoted, â€śItâ€™s not just about shopping â€” itâ€™s multidimensional; itâ€™s a place you can just hang out and go for a stroll,â€ť he said. â€śYouâ€™re not doing that in a mall.â€ť
Sounds like main street to me!
The Yards Park has already won a list of awards, but I’ve just discovered it.
I can see why it’s won awards–there are so many things I love about it–the variety of spaces, the classic Holly Whyte bits of urbanism (movable chairs, touchable water, something to eat, people to watch), and its connections, running from Diamond Teague Park at National’s Stadium and through the Navy Yard, with a few bikeshare docks along the way.
Suburbs have always been an indicator of economic status. If you lived in them, you were wealthy enough to take on a mortgage, maintain a house and yard, and eventually own and maintain one or even two cars.
At some point, that shifted. Living in the city and maintaining a middle class lifestyle took an upper class income. Limited attractive neighborhoods and buildings cost a premium. And if local schools and servicesÂ were not up to par you needed to payÂ tuition and fees.
Now, according to Christopher Leinberger and Mariela AlfonzoÂ in the New York Times, a larger number of city neighborhoods are outstripping the suburbs in desirability and thus in per square foot value. Their recent report finds that walkable places have “become more gentrified over the past decade,” with wealthier and more educated residents. And from a list of the walkable communities examined, you won’t be surprised by that finding–Bethesda, Penn Quarter, Logan Circle, Chevy Chase Lake.
But what are the quantifaible elements of a walkable community? He and his co-author found that “the absence of a clear classification of the mix of residential, office, and retail elements that comprise walkable urban places…has been one of the most significant barriers to addressing their demand.” But demand is there–he found that in Atlanta only 35 percent of people who wanted to live in a walkable community actually did.
The characteristics the authorsÂ used to define a walkable place are somewhat Lynchian (with my comments in parens):
- aesthetics (some subjective judgement of decoration, but also views and outdoor dining)
- connectivity (in the sense of barriers)
- form (does the place feel like a place)
- pedestrian amenities (both practical and decorative)
- personal safety (judged by indicators like graffiti and litter)
- physical activity
- proximity of uses (mixed uses)
- public spaces and parks (a la Holly White–movable chairs, touchable water)
- traffic measures (not car throughput, but slowing measures–signals and calming)
(The not easily quanitifiable measure I use for a walkable place is the ice cream cone factor. Can I get a cone, and then have a nice and interesting walk while I eat it, and will there be a place to toss my napkin when I’m done. Extra points if I can ride my bike there and burn off some of those calories ! I wouldn’t last a day at Brookings.)
Once you can describe these places, their economic impact can be measured, and Leinberger finds that impact to be considerable. Even controlling for household incomes, walkable places show a higher economic performance, with premiums in office and residential rents as well as in retail sales and housing values.
From the report: “Federal, state, and local policy makers should conduct a systematic review of existing public policies that are biased against walkable development, and adopt new measures aimed at facilitating (or at least removing roadblocks to) this type of development.”
As a suburb within walking, biking, and transit distance of downtown, and one that has its own urban centers, Montgomery isÂ advantagously postioned to add value by creating car alternatives to getting downtown (I’m looking at you bikeshare) and by building up its own urban areas.
The White Flint Plan, the BRT study, the zoning rewrite, even theÂ Parks Department’s community garden programÂ are all moves that will redfineÂ how and were we live by adding more choices. With plenty of suburban single-family communitiesÂ and the preservation of the Agricultural Reserve,Â Montgomery will become a layered place, one with options and interest that all add value.