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Why Historic Preservation Districts Should Be a Thing of the Past

GOP lawmakers in Midwestern states say such neighborhood designations infringe on homeowners’ rights. But really they stand in the way of affordable housing.
An historic housing district in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis.
An historic housing district in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis.Tony Webster/Flickr

Historic preservation is a handy tool. Sometimes it’s the scalpel: a precise instrument for safeguarding the long-term cultural legacy of the built environment against the temporary whims of private interests. But other times it’s the ax: a melee weapon for defending the interests of homeowners. There’s one scenario in which historic preservation almost always serves as the latter.

Certain buildings tend to be ideal candidates, categorically, for historic preservation. They are our churches, museums, theaters, libraries, and other civic and cultural buildings (parks and landscapes, too)—things that define a community. Historic preservation guarantees that these resources survive calamities like economic downturns, irresponsible stewards, and passing fads, as well as the biting passage of time.