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Pondering Preservation: How Will The Economic Downturn Affect Preservation?

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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 LA City Hall by flickr user Elle Lee1]

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? Parts 1 and 2 are here. Today's analysis comes from Ken Bernstein, manager of the Office of Historic Resources for the City of Los Angeles' Department of City Planning, where he directs Los Angeles' historic preservation policies: "The economic downturn is likely to have a double-edged effect on historic preservation in Los Angeles. On the one hand, it forecloses (pun intended) many once-viable adaptive reuse options - economically vital new uses for long-dormant historic buildings. The hot residential real estate market had also spurred many preservation-minded buyers to take a fresh look at long-overlooked historic neighborhoods, which, in turn, helped generate unprecedented interest in creating new Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs).

But the economic downturn may also allow us to catch our breath and put in place stronger policies and protections for historic resources. The Los Angeles preservation community has long been forced to take a triage approach to preservation: because 85% of Los Angeles has never previously been surveyed to identify significant historic resources, attention has necessarily gone to whatever is most urgently threatened. But the most difficult and contentious time to debate the merits of a threatened building is at the 11th hour, with a demolition proposal pending.

To move Los Angeles preservation in a more proactive, comprehensive direction, the Office of Historic Resources, with the support of the J. Paul Getty Trust, has launched SurveyLA - the citywide Los Angeles Historic Resources Survey. By the time the real estate market revs up once again, we should have in place survey findings around the city that will allow developers, preservationists, and policymakers alike to make more informed decisions about what is worth preserving."