Gentrification and Historic Preservation: This Old House vs Old House Journal
If you’ve ever subscribed to the two magazines you might notice a difference in the two. They do have a similarity in that they have a certain appreciation for older homes, classic architecture but where they differ is in that This Old House (TOH) goes more for appearance, whereas Old House Journal (OHJ) goes for authenticity. Personally, I’m a TOH kinda gal, I like old houses and such but there is no need to turn my home into a cultural artifact. TOH, the magazine and the television show, is open to new materials, materials that give the classic look of older material like wood or slate or what have you but not the maintenance or installation problems of classic materials. OHJ, promotes keeping and maintaining original objects (windows and cornices, chimneys, etc) almost demanding a museum quality of maintenance down to the mortar between the bricks. Also TOH is more forgiving allowing builders, designers and homeowners to work with the original design or theme of the home, sort of like taking a jazz standard and adding a hip hop dance beat(I’m thinking an updated Dinah Washington Is you is or is you ain’t my baby) in the back. OHJ is straight jazz, original recording, no mixing, or redubbing.
Okay now what do these magazines have to do with gentrification and historic preservation? Well working on my earlier post about the demands of historic preservation I wanted to illustrate two levels of appreciation for older homes, one that favored and demanded by the restrictions placed by historic districts and the other that comes from a general level of appreciation that also balances the needs of day to day living and personal budgets. Can you see my bias in that sentence? The restrictive rules and regulations just make living in an historic district burdensome for those with a general level of appreciation and limited funds, pushing those folks out in favor of people with the funding and desire for authenticity.
The case is worse for low/fixed income residents who lack the money for the authentic restoration demanded, making historic preservation an elitist excerise. A Sohmer and Lang (see links below) point out, preservation “still reflects a middle class ethos that obsesses over authenticity,” an authenticity that is so focused on the material minuae that it runs ramshod over the social structures and diversity that may have made place so valuable in the first place. Truxton Circle was in the late 19th and early 20th century had a mix of professionals, government civil servants, shopkeepers, tradesmen, servants and laborers and the housing reflected that diversity of social and income levels, a diversity that exists in early 21st century Truxton would be destroyed by preservation regulations.
In this I wonder what kind of history is being preserved? Surely not any social history as historic preservation is clearly at odds with affordable homeownership. History is complex. Real history is not the disneyfied version that is usually prepackaged for tourist groups for a manufactured experience. It’s got oppression, injustice, bigotry, guilt, ugliness, inhumane poverty and many of the same problems of human vice that currently exists today in 2005. It ain’t all beautiful. But it’s the pretty shiny bits that get pulled out or a redeeming ending is slapped on so that it can be marketed to the general public turning history into a lie of omission, a skewed version. I’m sure in my old age I’ll see theme parks where kids can have their picture taken with a Crip, Blood, or MS-13 gang member, made toothless like our current view of pirates and 1940s gangsters. Is that the kind of history that is being preserved in historic districts, the clean up, super edited, the materially authenic but spirtually empty kind? The Monticello without the slaves?
Lack of room for economic diversity, and a narrow museum biased interpretation of history are just a few reasons why I hold some hostility towards some aspects of historic preservation in residental settings. Another reason? It just pisses off my inner Libertarian. I can tolerate some government regulations and restrictions but I’m not looking to add more top down restrictions to my life. I moved to this house because I wanted to avoid condos and co-ops because of their boards, and planned communities (well they are too far out but..) for their HOA restrictions, and any other body that squashes individuality. I did look at one house that I believed was in an historic district but it’s being in an historic district was one of serval reasons I didn’t want to buy it. The house in Truxton appealed to me because it was an affordable older home but with no restrictive historic district rules. I got a TOH kinda love for older homes, not a OHJ kind of love. I take issue with having the kind of windows, fencing, security bars, doors, tree box, light fixtures, steps, what I can put on those steps and roofing materials dictated to me on a basis other than standard building codes and being denied suitable building materials because they don’t fit museum-centric standards.
Okay this is getting long so I’ll do part 2, section b, later and go on about maintenance and question aspects of the benifits of taking on the historic district burden.
Beyond This Old House: Historic Preservation in Comunity Development by Rebecca Sohmer and Robert E. Lang
Models for Neighborhood Revitalization in Historic Districts by, Michael Sacks,Trinity College, Hartford, CT