It is the Historic Districts Council’s firm belief, backed up by decades of observation, that the New York City Landmarks Law and the Commission empowered by it have enhanced and improved New York City. Landmark designation stabilizes neighborhoods, enhances property values, empowers communities and attracts private investment into the city. More importantly, landmarks and historic districts provide a physical continuity to our city’s past, enabling residents and visitors alike to physically experience New York’s history.
With all this in mind, it’s no mystery that the still unfilled de Blasio appointment for Landmarks Chair is a matter of great interest to us and we have thought a great deal about the type of person whom we’d like to see in the role.
To be clear, we are not commenting on the record-breaking service of Robert Tierney as Landmarks Chair nor should it be taken as such. Mr. Tierney has presided over the agency longer than any other chair in its history and his record is impressive, complex and still being written. Instead, let’s talk about what qualities we think the next Landmarks Chair should possess.
First and foremost, the new Landmarks Chair must believe in and show demonstrable devotion to the goals of historic preservation. The New York Landmarks Law places the preservation of our city’s heritage as a public necessity and greatly empowers the LPC to act to protect our shared history. In doing so, the LPC regulates some of the most expensive real estate in the country and there are profoundly powerful vested interests which have been working for years to compromise and hobble the agency’s effectiveness. Although historic preservation efforts are inclusive and community-based, these forces often paint landmarking as a luxury social good and an elitist concern used to resolve NIMBY issues. The Landmarks Chair needs to communicate and articulate the long term value of preservation to the city as a whole and to be the first line of defense for the agency’s mission.
The Landmarks Chair must also forcefully maintain the independence of the agency against internal and external pressures. As a part of city government, there will always be necessary negotiations between competing goals, but the Landmarks Preservation Commission must be unafraid to take strong stands for preservation. There is a strong and diverse civic community who is dedicated to the preservation of New York’s historic neighborhoods and their livability. We are ready and willing to support the LPC against adversity of all kinds but we need the agency and its Chair to be fearless in the pursuit of preservation.