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Historic preservation as gentrification and discrimination
June 15, 2011 9:22 AM   Subscribe

[Urban planning] allows discrimination but dresses it up as discriminating taste. So says an opinion piece in Reason magazine titled Urban Design Hipsters are Evil.

The essay was written in response to a NYT op-ed suggesting that historic preservation boards be professionalized and made more powerful. And that piece was written in response to a Rem Koolhaas exhibit at the New Museum, which a review calls "[an examination of] the wrenching simultaneity of the growing “empire” of preservation and the ravages of destruction."
posted by desjardins (59 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
On preview: just wanted to drop in and voice my support for anything that calls hipsters evil.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:26 AM on June 15, 2011


I couldn't fit this into the FPP, but here's a good article on gentrification and racial discrimination in Austin, TX.
posted by desjardins at 9:27 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Read these other popular articles on Reason.com!

* Obama and the Pursuit of Hipster War (6.13)
* Perverted Hipsters (6.14)
* Obama's War on the Rule of Hipsters (6.14)
* Belated GOP Hipster Open Thread! (6.13)
* "If It's Plastic, It's Organic. Hipsters." (6.14)
posted by theodolite at 9:29 AM on June 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Reason magazine?

Oh good I can safety ignore this.
posted by The Whelk at 9:29 AM on June 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


As opposed to what?
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:30 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Hipsters" is just included for click trawling, I guess.

I'm finding it an increasingly useful marker of lazy, best-ignored articles / blog posts / comments, though.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:34 AM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


That's not very reasonable.
posted by i_cola at 9:35 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


On preview: just wanted to drop in and voice my support for anything that calls hipsters evil.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:26 AM on June 15


Thanks, fighter of straw men!
posted by basicchannel at 9:38 AM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Hipsters" is just included for click trawling, I guess.

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24-hour gerrymandering webcam. Watch now!
posted by griphus at 9:38 AM on June 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Is this article making a point? I guess not knowing the first two or three parts of the "controversy" doesn't help.
posted by kozad at 9:40 AM on June 15, 2011


All you need to know about the value of this article is in the mouseover tag for the picture of Rem Koolhaas: 'Nice teeth, Rem.'

Something that calls itself 'Reason' magazine can't get away with ad hominem snarks.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:44 AM on June 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Reason magazine?

Oh good I can safety ignore this.


Hey, I've read some good stuff on there. Free Republic it is not.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:49 AM on June 15, 2011


Perhaps we need a new Godwin-style law stating that anyone who resorts to calling their opponents hipsters automatically forfeits the argument?
posted by acb at 9:52 AM on June 15, 2011 [12 favorites]


I'm confused -- how does preservation promote segregation (whether racial or class based)? what is the mechanism?

In my current neighbourhood - where I live on charity - preservation is attempting to stand against extreme gentrification (from middle class to "oh my god, people make that much money?!" class) in the form of knocking down older, smaller homes to build very large ones. It's both a social and an aesthetic issue: the developer built homes are god-awful ugly.

I can be accepting of an ugly house if the person who chose the ugliness lives their; it's their house, their taste. But these are all built to sell -- the poor buyers have no choice because all the new houses on Market are ugly.
posted by jb at 9:52 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps we need a new Godwin-style law stating that anyone who resorts to calling their opponents hipsters automatically forfeits the argument?

That's probably a good idea. IMO, the word "hipster" does nothing but show an arbitrary cynicism concerning your opponent's motives-- it's ad hominem by default.
posted by herbplarfegan at 9:56 AM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


On preview: just wanted to drop in and voice my support for anything that calls hipsters evil.

Hipsters are evil a priori, because "hipster" has become an invented classification to describe a class of person you don't like. They don't actually exist.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:00 AM on June 15, 2011


Perhaps we need a new Godwin-style law stating that anyone who resorts to calling their opponents hipsters automatically forfeits the argument?

"Hipster Hitler's law"?
posted by ryanshepard at 10:01 AM on June 15, 2011


how does preservation promote segregation (whether racial or class based)? what is the mechanism?

Here's one mechanism: if your home is designated as historically significant, and you need to make repairs, you must do so in a very specific, historically accurate way that may cost a lot more than you can afford. 100 year old houses are not cheap to maintain in any case.
posted by desjardins at 10:01 AM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hey, it's Reason Magazine! Again! Hating on historical preservation AND an abstract social category, in a desperate attempt to be seen as bold, original thinkers!

I'm waiting for the day someone submits A Modest Proposal to them and they run it as "fresh thinking on entitlement reform" in perfect seriousness.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 10:02 AM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not a perfect article, but it does remind me of a case I read about recently in my local news. City council wanted to "avoid the development of 'Asian' malls". In what way would that serve the community? The reason ethnic malls get built in the first place is that people want them!
Zoning should be around to make sure development is appropriate to traffic/transit/parking capacity, and to avoid mixing dangerous/noisy industrial uses with other uses. It should also be used for other reasons like protecting views and sunlight. It shouldn't micro-manage the city like this, though.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:04 AM on June 15, 2011


Also: if your neighborhood or home is designated historically significant, the appraisals go up - and thus the property taxes. "Just sell it and move" is not always a viable option.
posted by desjardins at 10:04 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


PS I am not against historical preservation, I'm just aware that it does have real-world negative consequences.
posted by desjardins at 10:06 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait... is this article arguing that all zoning and historical preservation attempts are discriminatory, so we shouldn't do it at all? Racism in urban planning is hardly news and I have no clue how they got from there to land-use free-for-all.
posted by hoyland at 10:09 AM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is a strip mall worthy of historical preservation?
posted by ofthestrait at 10:16 AM on June 15, 2011


The reason ethnic malls get built in the first place is that people want them!

How dare you neglect the superior tastes of the zoning elites, you capitalist!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:30 AM on June 15, 2011


The people murdering development of affordable housing in urban centers aren't "hipsters." They are the fascist busy-bodies on community development boards and zoning boards that establish suburban zoning requirements on urban areas. These are the bastards that kill any project that's not the same as all of the others on the block, that want to "protect" worthless housing stock that was rubbish even when it was built, and that keep until thousands of urban parcels vacant for no reason other than you cannot build a McMansion there.

It wasn't "hipsters" who decided that a home should have a minimum number of square feet, and that this minimum number should be larger than the average size of a home built a century ago. Hosers.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:35 AM on June 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


We need to work on lowing the grade on all of these slopes for the fixee-only bike lanes.

I had to have fixees explained to me. I ... still don't understand why people would do this. It's baffling. I feel as if there is a fundamental puzzle in the human mind is forever beyond my ability to solve.
posted by adipocere at 10:36 AM on June 15, 2011


Ugh...this planners-are-elites/betters trope needs to die. I am waiting for the day when people realize that planners are the tools of the politicians who are, turn, the tools of the wealthy. The idea that a cabal of planners is out their quietly trying to subvert democracy and equality is just silly.

I long for the day when planners can achieve merely a voice in the process of city development. As for actual power? That will never happen.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 10:43 AM on June 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


adipocere, try this, and let's not derail this thread any further.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:55 AM on June 15, 2011


In the field, this is quite a hot topic of discussion. One major push in historic preservation is to find ways to make the existing laws work better for the average individual. The biggest issue is that many of the rules and regulations governing historic districts (and what those even are) are set at the local level and therefore are not as standardized as they could be. In know in my area there are Locally Designated Historic Districts, Historic Areas, and then National Register Historic Districts. What can be done to a house in a local historic district may not be the same with a National. These regulations don't automatically push up repair costs because in many areas there are tax abatements or credits that compensate for the repairs. National Register districts follow a stricter standard for what can be done, while local districts are regulated on a case by case and local level.

I know a number of folks who have been working to help homeowners in minority communities understand how the historic district designation and national register can work to their benefit, either through tax credits, grants, or state and federal funding assistance. Here in St. Louis, there has been an attempt to rescue buildings and homes in the lower income neighborhoods by using tax credits and abatements, but the problem is that the long time residents of those neighborhoods aren't aware of what is available.

It's not a perfect situation and there is a lot to be done to make historic preservation more accessible to the average public. What people need to realize is that there are very good reasons for reusing or rehabbing an old building that are not limited to "it looks cool". Selling historic preservation as a more sustainable alternative to new construction is becoming more and more common and might be the way to go. Why cut down trees and consume materials to create a new building from scratch when there is an existing building that can be rehabbed for far less? The challenge is to get people to invest in neighborhoods and communities that are typically ignored and to get those individuals that live in the communities the tools and assets to preserve their community while helping it grow.
posted by teleri025 at 11:05 AM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Guys, guys. This is in Reason Magazine.

They're professional trolls. Let's get back to arguing about things that *matter*.
posted by ged at 11:10 AM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hipsters are evil a priori, because "hipster" has become an invented classification to describe a class of person you don't like. They don't actually exist.

No, they do exist. It's just that the label has been so widely misused as a shorthand for "people I hate" (especially here on Metafilter) that it's now effectively useless. Which is frustrating when you want to talk about the specific demographic it once referred to.

They're professional trolls.

Just because they're libertarians with a knee-jerk hate-on for government planning agencies doesn't mean they're always wrong. The Reason article is quite good, and it's not the first time they've published worthwhile stuff on land use. Sure, it's ideologically biased, but not more so than your typical New York Times piece.
posted by twirlip at 11:24 AM on June 15, 2011


It's silly to assume that all urban planners are exclusively preservationist, or classify the preservation of historical things above all other factors. Oftentimes, they prefer old things for their other virtues - they're often more durable, more amenable to foot traffic and generally more beautiful. These sorts of things are as good for poor people (if not better) than for rich people, and poor people tend to have access to less of them.

Many urban planners are also interested in constructing economically integrated communities. The only way you can make an economically integrated community is planting cheap housing next to moderately priced housing next to expensive housing, and that takes planning.
posted by Apropos of Something at 11:25 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you want to accept this argument (particularly with a New York focus), you also need to accept that Grand Central Terminal would have been torn to the ground without historic preservation.

(Speaking of train stations, the demolition of the stunningly gorgeous Penn Station, and its replacement by a horrible modernist structure quite literally launched the preservation movement)

The planners-as-preservationists meme is also an amusing one. In the 1950s-70s, the conflict was planners vs preservationists. Mid-century planners argued that old buildings and dense residential areas had no place in a modern city, and that the ideal of the city itself was very much outmoded.

Indeed, planning in the 1960s was a very dark time. We tried a lot of new ideas, and most of them didn't work. Ironically, the Atlantic Yards project cited by the article as being a legitimate project struck down by NIMBYist Hipsters and planners is a fantastic example of 1960s-style planning-done-wrong.

I'll grant that density is generally a pretty good thing, and that Brooklyn has resisted density for far too long (contributing to the insanity that is the NYC real-estate market). However, tearing down existing neighborhoods (even ones classified as "slums") to be replaced by modernist towers has almost never been a winning strategy. (Stuy Town in NYC is the only successful example of Corbusier-inspired planning that I can think of, and even that has a checkered history.) The author of this article sure has a selective memory of the history of 20th-century planning.

Also, large developments do not exist in a vacuum. They require a great deal of public and physical infrastructure, which is provided by local governments. Zoning codes exist for a reason, and large projects such as the Atlantic Yards cannot be sold as "free market" solutions, unless the developer is willing to take on this entire burden itself. (As it stands, budget-crippled NYC will be spending billions to expand infrastructure to support Atlantic Yards, while also giving the developer a fairly generous tax break, and selling the land to Ratner at less than half of its assessed market value)

tl;dr: Reason are asshats. Anything I don't like must be a communist jew black liberal hipster.
posted by schmod at 11:26 AM on June 15, 2011 [12 favorites]


Perhaps we need a new Godwin-style law stating that anyone who resorts to calling their opponents hipsters automatically forfeits the argument?

I was doing that before anyone else found out about it.
posted by gimonca at 11:26 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh good I can safety ignore this.

I felt the same way about it for a long time, but gradually realized I had been mistaken. Half the content is daft libertarianism, but mixed in are many thoughtful critiques of the status quo. This article explores issues from the misuse of zoning laws for ethnic segregation purposes - as featured on Metafilter not so long ago - to the overenthusiastic prosecution of code violations, with LA county threatening to jail a man over the construction of his own house on his own land in the countryside. It is well worth a read.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:29 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Planning is a good thing. But it can be done badly. There are ways to plan to have attractive and functional communities that *help* people who are in poverty by giving them better access to services and work and affordable housing that isn't totally segregated from the rest of the community. There are also ways to plan to have attractive and less functional communities that shove all the less pretty people off where the wealthy don't have to actually see them and make the problems of poverty worse by making it hard for people to get to things like the grocery store or whatever.

Both of those things involve planning. Both of those things involve design. Planning is still better than *not* planning because then you just end up with everything being inaccessible and segregated *and* awful traffic and mismatched buildings and whatnot.
posted by gracedissolved at 11:36 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


[T]his planners-are-elites/betters trope needs to die. I am waiting for the day when people realize that planners are the tools of the politicians who are, turn, the tools of the wealthy. The idea that a cabal of planners is out their quietly trying to subvert democracy and equality is just silly.

It's just faux anti-elitism and populist anti-intellectualism, straight out of the movement-conservative playbook described in Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew. First you redescribe all competent government, of any political stripe, as the "elitist" dominance of evilly non-everymannish egghead nabob apparatchiks, then you slowly defund it and hand its work off to the corporations. Of course you're right about the actual interests that an educated technocracy mostly serves, but even paying lip service to the very idea of public service responsible to the public interest implies far too much indirection in how they carry that work out, for the taste of the Reason crowd.
posted by RogerB at 11:46 AM on June 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Isn't calling your magazine Reason sort of like referring to yourself as a certified genius?
posted by octothorpe at 11:50 AM on June 15, 2011


Read these other popular articles on Reason.com!

* Obama and the Pursuit of Hipster War (6.13)
* Perverted Hipsters (6.14)
* Obama's War on the Rule of Hipsters (6.14)
* Belated GOP Hipster Open Thread! (6.13)
* "If It's Plastic, It's Organic. Hipsters." (6.14)


That is really not too far off from actual Reason headlines. A search for 'hipster' reveals:

"John Locke, Original Hipster"
"That Show By Those Hipster Know-It-Alls Who Talk About How Fascinating Ordinary People Are" - (about NPR)
"The Hipster Activist in the Library"
"Dr. Hipster Makes House Calls"
"Aging Hipster: I Did Blow 40 Feet From Obama!"

and then there's the headline that pretty much sums up Reason:
"Jimmy Carter, Hipster"

posted by mcmile at 12:10 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tim Cavanaugh takes a complex subject, land use, and renders it incomprehensible. He conflates urban design with planning and zoning law; claims preservationists are elitists of a single mind and backs his charges of racism! with 75 year-old evidence from a racist cultural context.

Not happy with this sprawling can of worms, he throws "hipster" in the mix. Presumably this word is supposed to substitute for an actual critique of Goldhagen and/or Koolhaas.

On the subjects of urban design, planning and preservation, Cavanaugh is obviously ignorant and has little more to say than, "I want my private property rights."
posted by xod at 1:00 PM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


David Koch is a trustee of the Reason Foundation, which puts out Reason Magazine.

So when you lazily call the strawmen-of-your-ire "hipsters", you're using stale, Kochean rhetoric.

Come on, MetaFilter. Don't be a Koch.
posted by defenestration at 1:07 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was quite interested in that Austin article. The preservation issue is one of the points in the (negative but issue-oriented) runoff campaign between an incumbent council member and a challenger that's taking place on Saturday. IIRC, the challenger alleges that the incumbent has used the current preservation ordinances to pay back her supporters.

The real problem in Austin in terms of planning ordinances, as far as I can tell, is the so called McMansion ordinance that restricts home size based on lot size. It's protecting a lot of 75-year-old homes (IMO good) but the downside is that the lots are all small so all the people who think you need a half-acre backyard and 3000+ square feet to raise kids are moving out to the suburbs. (Insert joke here about whether Austin really wants those folks.)

I'm a bit bemused by the whole thing because I grew up in Houston, where there was little to no urban planning and definitely no zoning, but struggles with many of the same issues of gentrification (hello Heights!) and preservation. But getting rid of zoning boards and planning commissions and leaving all the decisions in the hands of the market (e.g., developers and their handpicked homeowners' associations) doesn't magically solve the problems either.
posted by immlass at 1:20 PM on June 15, 2011


Just because they're occasionally right doesn't mean they're not Trolls.

Trolls should be ignored. Hey, let's argue about the merits of late 70's soul music instead.
posted by ged at 1:21 PM on June 15, 2011


"... to the overenthusiastic prosecution of code violations, with LA county threatening to jail a man over the construction of his own house on his own land in the countryside. "

Just because you own the land doesn't mean you get to build whatever kind of crazy structure you want on it. We have building codes because without them people will build things that are likely to kill others or themselves.

Whether it's "overenthusiastic" or not seems to be up for some debate in this case. If you continue to flout a judge's orders you're going to get slapped with a variety of fines and punishments.

Also, reading the FB comments to that article make my eyes bleed.
posted by ged at 1:36 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


David Koch is a trustee of the Reason Foundation, which puts out Reason Magazine.

oh god I'm sorry
posted by desjardins at 1:44 PM on June 15, 2011


Even if you buy the premise, the opposite of "the government does it badly" is not "the owner does it perfectly".

Reason is the paragon of excluded middle arguing.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:55 PM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


What a red herring to claim that land use and zoning oversight is some innately discriminatory process. As if private discrimination weren't the real cause of urban white flight -- once it became clear that the state wasn't going to enforce discriminatory housing patterns any longer.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 4:09 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can we still make fun of dudes with ironic facial hair and jeans so tight you can tell what religion they are? Whatever you call them, that shit has to stop.
posted by jonmc at 4:30 PM on June 15, 2011


The article wasn't all bad. There was that funny All in the Family clip at the end.

"Hipster Hitler's law"?

I now have the strong urge to photoshop Hitler as a hipster.
posted by effwerd at 5:21 PM on June 15, 2011


You know what? I have no idea what the right thing to do is re: preserving or letting cities grow on their own. I do know that most North American cities gutted their old neighbourhoods several times in the name of "progress" which was suppose to be so great for the big happy melting pot, and by and large that progress was a big fucking disaster.

But, like I said, I'm not qualified to say how to balance these things.

No, I just want to call out Reason for being such lazy douchebags. Reaching for the easy dismissal of "hipster" is reprehensible for anyone calling themselves a magazine.

Talk about discrimination. Find some muddily defined outgroup, and pin all your faults on them. Nice fucking job, Reason. Their editorship should be ashamed.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:46 PM on June 15, 2011


Perhaps we need a new Godwin-style law stating that anyone who resorts to calling their opponents hipsters automatically forfeits the argument?

Pabst's law?
posted by schmod at 7:06 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am still bothered deeply by the union bug I saw on the ad advocating a vote for segrgation which is one of the illustrations in the article.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:53 PM on June 15, 2011


apropos: So You Want To Be a City Planner
posted by stratastar at 12:01 AM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Just because they're libertarians with a knee-jerk hate-on for government planning agencies doesn't mean they're always wrong. The Reason article is quite good, and it's not the first time they've published worthwhile stuff on land use. Sure, it's ideologically biased, but not more so than your typical New York Times piece."

Seriously? Saying that The New Republic needs to die is not more ideologically biased than the NYT?

Conflating a bunch of century-old racism with the current state of urban planning, itself conflated with preservationism and hipsters isn't more biased than the NYT?

A bunch of misleading, demagoguery applied to zoning disputes?

The Reason article is bullshit and took what could have been a legit critique of anti-development NIMBYs into the territory of raving, ad hominem raving. If you can't tell the difference between that and the NY Times, which I'm not denying has its own set of biases and blindspots, you're either so deep in Koch Kool-Aid that you literally can't honestly use the very reason that the magazine alludes to, or you're engaging in a particularly pernicious false equivalency.

Saying that Reason is like the NY Times in substantive bias is like saying that Fox News is no more partisan than CNN.
posted by klangklangston at 12:17 PM on June 16, 2011


you're either so deep in Koch Kool-Aid

That is genuinely amusing.
posted by twirlip at 1:33 PM on June 16, 2011


I do take your point, though, klang. I was overstating my case, mainly out of frustration with the knee-jerk dismissals upthread. Not a winning strategy.
posted by twirlip at 1:59 PM on June 16, 2011


This is a really interesting discussion. Even though the linked articles may not be state of the art.
So thank you for a good post.
posted by mumimor at 2:25 PM on June 16, 2011


Where did this perception of Godwin's law as a rule that can be violated come from?
posted by TheKM at 9:37 PM on June 16, 2011


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