Events & News

Does New York’s Past Have a Future?

October 14, 2007
Article from the Fall 2007 Newsletter

The Gotham Center for New York History and the New York Preservation Archive Project co-hosted a panel discussion before a packed audience at the Gotham Center Recital Hall on May 14, 2007. The theme of the panel: Does New York’s Past Have a Future? A Report on the Preservation Movement’s History and Some Prescriptions for Its Next Century. Mike Wallace moderated the discussion and panelists, William J. Higgins, Anthony M. Tung, Julia Vitullo-Martin, Tom Wolfe, and Anthony C. Wood each presented remarks based on professional knowledge of historic preservation.

Mr. Wood led off the discussion by presenting research on the events leading to the passage of New York City Landmarks Law. He explained how these events shaped preservation in the city today. Mr. Higgins outlined six “cosmic issues” surrounding preservation and development projects, pitting the two against each other and explaining how the themes are used by opponents and proponents of projects. Mr. Tung placed preservation of New York City into a global context, forecasting a grim future for historic resources if the trend of destruction continues as it has in the past century. Mr. Tung stated that about 50% of the significant buildings that existed in 1900 had been demolished by the turn of the millennium. Dr. Vitullo-Martin spoke on the threat of development in growing cities, such as New York, to historic properties. Dr. Vitullo-Martin asserted the idea that preservationists should “embrace” development of empty lots to relieve pressure on existing historic buildings and should choose battles carefully, not expend energy fighting for “ugly” buildings. Mr. Wolf spoke on the role of politics in shaping the climate of preservation today. Moderator Mike Wallace fielded questions from the audience to the panelists. A full summary of the event by Sewell Chan is available on The New York Times’ “Empire Zone” blog.


Above: Panelists Tom Wolfe, Anthony C. Wood, and William J. Higgins