Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Preservation Equals Destruction

A rather unusual, ugly building built in 1964 is to be preserved at all costs. So says the unanimous ten member board of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. In a decision yesterday, each member of the Board stood up to defend the preservation of this building and eight others that comprise the polyglot assortment of buildings of St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Greenwich Village. St. Vincent’s wants to raze their collection of old buildings and build a modern hospital and a condominium tower in their stead. By selling land to the condominium developer, they plan to offset part of the $1.6 billion cost of their hospital redevelopment.

But none of this is to be. The ten member board and their allied activists, such as Andrew Berman, who heads the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, have nearly absolute authority over real estate development in vast swaths of New York City that are designated “landmark districts.” And they use their authority, in nearly all instances to “just say no” to any development at all. Occasionally, a new building is allowed to go up, but only if it is replacing a building that has collapsed due to old age and neglect, and only if the new building is built to strictly blend in with the old buildings surrounding it. Like envious neighbors, the adjacent buildings’ height and appearance get to graft their tired, old faces onto the shape and form of any new building that goes up. If the Landmarks Commission is successful, the new building will look old; its façade will represent the state-of-the-art in building construction, as it existed 150 years ago.

None of this will suit the managers of St. Vincent’s. Their new building must be larger than the surrounding buildings. Its façade cannot hide the state-of-the-art life-saving machinery that it will house. To save human lives, St. Vincent’s new building must be large, new and modern, each attribute of which is despised by the ten members of the Commission. Like berobed priests of a dead religion, these modern-day ascetics have the power to impose their worship of the old on the rest of us. They can destroy, both the property rights of St. Vincent’s and the lives of all those who would have gained health by using the facilities of a new, modern hospital.

Preserve dead things by destroying new things and life. That should be the motto of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

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