Pondering Preservation: How Will The Economic Downturn Affect Preservation?

Welcome to Pondering Preservation, a series that asks preservationists, architects, historians, and homeowners to share their thoughts on preservation efforts in Los Angeles.

[Image of Pasadena City Hall by flickr user La Citta Vita]

This segment's question: Will a downturn mean fewer historic structures are at risk from developers' bulldozers? Will it mean less money to preserve and restore? And will you finally be able to buy that Neutra you've been eying with the spare change in your couch cushions? Part 1 is here. Today's analysis comes from Sue Mossman, Executive Director of preservation non-profit Pasadena Heritage: "I think both are true – My observation is that development has slowed somewhat and that will likely continue, which can provide a breather in areas where hyper development pressure has been straining preservation resources in recent years. There is also a shift in the kind of development we’re seeing – housing is still being built, often mixed-use buildings with retail and housing together (although almost no affordable housing). But new projects being proposed are increasingly office and professional buildings.

This could be a plus, where development has been more threatening to neighborhoods and historic homes in recent years (in areas zoned for housing), these new projects may be more focused in commercial areas – of course this won’t help if the commercial areas are historic, unless there is regulation to preserve existing structures while allowing for infill and adaptive reuse. This may be a good time to work on broader planning and policy issues if preservationists aren’t having to constantly run from crisis to crisis on individual buildings. But, it may be politically more difficult to secure stronger preservation policy if it is seen as discouraging economic development.

It will also be a real struggle for non-profits of all kinds to fundraise in this environment; major sources of funding have traditionally been financial institutions and construction-related/real-estate businesses. If they aren’t doing well, non-profits will suffer! (In Pasadena, we’re certainly feeling the loss of IndyMac and Countrywide already.) And, of course, individuals members and donors may cut back, too. The fund-raising picture looks very difficult for next year and even beyond; organizations that have staff and overhead to carry will be particularly challenged, but life won’t be easy for grass roots organizations either. We are carefully considering every single thing we do at Pasadena Heritage, looking for cost cutting measures, and may even have to consider cancelling some programming next year if funding isn’t available.

So, I see fewer buildings at risk in the near future if developers cancel or postpone their plans, but it won’t be an easy road ahead for any of us. We should all strive to make the best use of the slowdown, if possible, and regroup for the next wave!"For more stories from Curbed LA, go to la.curbed.com.

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