“Historic preservation, in practice, is not about preserving history. It is about preserving the lifestyle of an affluent urban elite.”


I remain broadly in favor of historic preservation, although probably not with the same level of enthusiasm as before. This might have to do with the zealousness of others leading to Reisz-like outcomes for the local ruling elites, although perhaps it’s a function of curmudgeonly attainment.

But solar panels? As the story mentions, there was a bit of a rollback after the bad publicity started coming in.

When Historic Preservation Hurts Cities, by Binyamin Appelbaum (New York Times)

The madness of prohibiting solar panels on the rooftops of historic buildings illustrates how preservation culture has run amok.

I live in a historic neighborhood in the heart of Washington, D.C. It’s not historic in the sense that anything especially important happened here — certainly not in the modest rowhouses that make up the bulk of the neighborhood. What “historic” means, here and in cities across the country, is that this is a neighborhood where buildings are not supposed to change.

The law says window frames on Capitol Hill must be wooden, or something that looks very much like wood. If a front door has two parts and opens down the middle, it cannot be replaced by a single door that swings open from the side. If the house was built two stories tall, it must remain two stories tall — unless the addition can’t be seen from the street.

Humans don’t like change, so it’s not surprising that historic preservation laws have become quite popular. There are now more than 2,300 local historic districts across the United States, and I know many people who would like to have their own neighborhood frozen in time.

But historic preservation comes at a cost: It obstructs change for the better. And while that price is generally invisible, it is now on public display because of the city’s efforts to prevent Washington homeowners in historic neighborhoods from installing visible rooftop solar panels …