Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Historic Preservation

As many may know, our little river city (like many cities) is dealing with some serious budget issues. Thus, many folks are discussing places to save money. As part of one of these discussions, it was suggested that Covington get rid of it's historic preservation officer and have those duties be taken over by Code Enforcement.

This is a horrifyingly bad idea.

First off, and let me be clear about this, I love our code enforcement folks--at least those I've met and have dealt with, past and present. That said, those guys are busy enough as it is. It's unlikely that they have the skill sets necessary to promote and ensure historic preservation and it's unlikely that they'll have time to acquire the skill sets--they're busy enforcing the code and trying to keep Covington livable and safe. But let's assume that these guys, somehow, could find the time and energy to get up to speed on all the historic districts, the preservation briefs, federal requirements, national historic register requirements, resources and best practices (etc., etc.). Historic preservation is a full time job. If the officer misses a beat, a treasure can be lost. For good. The thing is, code enforcement guys get busy, especially at certain times of the year. Some of what they do is a matter of life and death, too. They cannot and should not make historic preservation their first priority when lives are at stake. This makes historic preservation duties and code enforcement duties incompatible--even in the artificially optimistic construct that I created here.

Now, some might say, "But is that level of concern about historic preservation even warranted? In times of tight budgets, can we really afford the luxury of historic preservation?"

The answer is this: Yes, indeed, concern for our historic housing and building stocks is even MORE important now. In fact, we can't afford NOT to have a dedicated historic preservation officer.

In times of tight budgets, a town needs growth in both business and population. Our housing stock is a huge attraction for potential residents and businesses. It's available. It's affordable. And, it's beautiful. Our wonderful historic buildings are why we moved here and it's why we bought here. Anyone who has traveled around this country much knows that not every city has the wonderful (and largely contiguous) historic architecture that our Northern Kentucky "Cote d'Azur" has. This historic housing stock is really a gem. It's also a gem that helps increase our tax base and our tax revenues.

In fact, when one stops to think on it, what is our town WITHOUT all of our wonderful historic architecture? I'll tell you what it is: Just another small, undifferentiated town deriving it's meaning from the 2nd tier city across the river. Yuk!

There's a reason why historic architecture has value--not everyone has it. And, once it's gone, it's gone. You can't replace it. It is, in economic terms, a dwindling asset. It will only become more rare and large pockets of historic real estate are, and will become, even more rare and more valuable. So, what we've got makes us special now and if we can keep it, it will make us even more special going forward into the re-urbanization of our region.

So, yes, we do need a dedicated, full time, historic preservation officer if we intend to keep this city a worthwhile place to live. This isn't just about esthetics, it's also about keeping our town economically viable. Fortunately, our HPO is quite good. She has a passion for history and architecture, a deep knowledge base, and a desire to help residents do the work necessary to save and preserve our properties. She is personally and substantially invested in our city. I have personally found her to be generous with her time and resources. We're very lucky to have her.