Touting Myths about Local Historic Districts

“Historic designation will reduce my property values.”


Just this last week I heard this myth touted by a local architect.


Joseph Goebbels was a great propagandist for the Nazis.     As much as they failed militarily, they still had the German people believing all the way to the fall of Berlin.      One of his favorite quotes was,


If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.


And he was right!    It works.      In fact, many societal concepts that have no historic or scientific basis are repeated over and over again every day here in America.   Madison Avenue makes a living on it!   We are supposed to be smarter than that but when you have an onslaught without mercy; the mind grows weary combating such assumptions.    After a time, you sit in your easy chair and just nod.


There are 2200 plus local historic districts in our nation.   High-property values surround places such as Cambridge, Charleston and Savannah and hundreds of others where the local historic district covers large neighborhoods.   With such a body of statistical information about them, study after study has conclusively demonstrated that just assigning an historic district increases property values.       When there are only 8.3% of the homes in America that are over 100 years old, designating a district takes a usually mundane structure and sets it apart as unique with special qualities and  the surrounding neighborhood with an ambience of value.        And this is without any protection!


But it gets even better when that same historic district becomes a local historic district with protections.


Local Historic District designation gives potential homebuyers two rare and economically valuable assurances – that One, the very qualities that attracted them to the neighborhood will actually endure over time and Two, that they can safely reinvest in sensitive improvements to their homes without fear that their neighbor will undermine this investment with a new “monster home” or inappropriate new development.


Lisa Scherzer of the magazine SmartMoney reported this last week in an article, “The 5 Best Markets for 2010” that according to the National Association of Realtors that Charleston, South Carolina which was where the Nation’s first local historic district was established has one of the highest increases in property values.   This at the same time that the environment of decreasing values is spreading nationwide.     Newburyport needs to buck the decrease and the LHD will do it!   By the way, the other four best markets are really big cities: Memphis, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Tacoma.  


But the most wonderful affect of a local historic district is diversity.      In a local historic district, you have the protection of neighborhoods that are composed of the wealthy and the poor, high-tech professionals and unskilled labor, young and the old, families with and without children.    In other words, you have a real community not a collection of strangers.      


Haverhill chose to tear down a large section of their city and the lack of community is palpable.      Here, we have real individuals rubbing shoulders as citizens.      Instead of a gated, wealthy enclave, we have Americans rubbing shoulders with other Americans.     


No ghetto, No mcmansions – just a great place to live.


That’s the best way to describe Newburyport.


-P. Preservationist


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