The basic myth is that historic preservationists want everything to be a museum. Each business and house stuck without change and without life. Nobody can build new buildings or have jobs because everything remains “static” Therefore, not only are historic preservationists bad for business, they will cause a loss of jobs and should be stopped.
This of course, came from the very environmentally unfriendly concept of ‘building is prosperity’. Wealth comes from constructing new buildings and that the construction industry is the backbone of our economy. Anyone that prevents the demolition of old structures will prevent new construction. This kind of mindset has caused human communities to turn into overbuilt urban blight. In California, there is the Wilson Castle. The woman who owned the house was told by a psychic that she must perpetually do construction. The day she finishes it, she will die. Night and day she would build, sometimes stairs going no where just so she knew that construction was happening somewhere on her property. Some think that this same type of frenetic activity will ensure prosperity.
But they forget the human component that needs culture and depth of spirit and historic significance to make a place livable. The Siren song of perpetual construction has left major cities without souls. Where does everyone go when visiting Boston? They instinctively head for the North End that has so much of that city’s heritage still intact. They don’t trek down to the business district with its nest of high skyscrapers. They instinctively seek history in places like Quincy Market.
Newburyport stopped the wrecking ball long enough to be a beacon of hope for other blighted communities. Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell, Manchester (NH), Portsmouth, Portland (ME) and even large cities are finding that historic preservation has revitalized commercial and residential districts across the country. Though we are stymied by Whittier’s Curse, other towns and cities have run with it and have had spectacular success.
The National Main Street Center, a program that uses historic preservation to revitalize town centers and neighborhood commercial districts, has actually tracked economic results in 1,700 Main Street communities nationally. These preservation-based programs have created over 231,000 new jobs and resulted in over $17 billion in reinvestment to date, with every dollar spent on a Main Street program yielding $40 in economic reinvestment.
Even in Newburyport, historic preservation has resulted in the construction industry being enriched not impoverished. New construction often involves prefab and materials built hundreds of miles away from our city. Often construction crews are brought in outside the community. In contrast, renovation and restoration involves local labor and local vendors having steady work to keep Newburyport looking its best.
Avoiding huge construction projects also keeps taxes within reason as the City is not stressed by new buildings and neighborhoods. Every time a new residence is built, the city must create four times the cost of construction in new infrastructure and services. Our City has concentrated efforts in renovation/restoration and if there is new construction it is normally additions.
We in Newburyport should be very proud that it was the citizens not the leadership that created a model for the restoration of hundreds of communities. We started it and we should be very proud of our “first”. We have showed that we’re no static museum but a living prosperous community.