Giving Compass’ Take:
• Jack Denton discusses the controversy around landmarking and gentrification: there is disagreement among advocates about whether it hurts or helps.
• How can funders work to ensure that gentrification does not displace communities?
When the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission promised to protect the Strand, the storied bookseller said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Since vacating 4th Avenue’s legendary “Book Row”—of which it is the only surviving store—in 1957, the Strand has blossomed into an adored cultural institution known for its readings from famous authors, extensive selection (self-reportedly 2.5 million) of used and new books, red awnings, and an aura of old New York.
Though colossal gentrification, the rise of Amazon, and various other bookseller-unfriendly forces have felled many other nearby stores, the Strand has remained.
Seeking to enshrine the Strand’s cultural legacy and its circa-1902 Renaissance Revival building in law and concrete, the Landmarks Preservation Commission proposed landmarking the building’s exterior—kicking off a bitter fight from the Strand and its allies in the literary community. The store’s petition against the landmarking earned more than 6,000 signatures, and supportive opposition included media celebrities such as Fran Lebowitz, Naomi Wolf, and Gary Shteyngart.
Landmarking will limit the store’s ability to make renovations, creating bureaucratic costs for the store’s continued existence, the Strand and its supporters argue. “Landmarking our building will only make it that much harder for us to survive and pass our treasured family owned business to [our] children, and hopefully to theirs,” Nancy Bass Wyden, the store’s owner, said during a hearing in December, according to the New York Post.
In some ways, the owner of a for-profit business—albeit a culturally beloved one—fighting the city’s proposed regulations on its building is a dog-bites-man story. However, the Strand’s story also reflects a growing anti-landmarking coalition that views preservation initiatives as potentially harmful to the historic and culturally significant neighborhoods and buildings they intend to preserve. But the reasons residents in cities across the United States oppose—and support—landmarking are manifold.
“There’s so many advocacy groups on both sides of this, those that want it and those that don’t,” says Brian McCabe, a sociologist of affordable housing and historic preservation at Georgetown University. There are YIMBYs (“Yes in My Backyard”) and NIMBYs (“Not in My Backyard”), anti-gentrification preservationists and anti-gentrification anti-preservationists—the list goes on. “Rich people tend to be in favor of [landmarking], but it doesn’t always fall along easy divides.”
Read the full article about gentrification and landmarking by Jack Denton at Pacific Standard.
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