Does Preserving the Past Keeps Cities From Moving Into the Future?

By Alissa Walker on at

In the last 50 years, the preservationist movement has become powerful—maybe too powerful in a place like New York City, where a third of the buildings are now protected. But the buildings we think of today as landmarks inevitably replaced older structures, ones we tend to forget were demolished in the path towards progress. This provocative video argues that 'saving' so many buildings now will actually do more damage than good.

The video by ReasonTV imagines an alternate future: Let’s say the Landmarks Preservation Act that New York City passed in 1965—in response to the destruction of the original Penn Station—was actually passed in 1865. That would mean no Woolworth Building, no Empire State Building, no skyscrapers at all, actually. The tallest building in the city would be Trinity Church, the 284-foot spire that’s still standing in Lower Manhattan.

In perspective, our desire to protect historic structures is relatively new. These sentiments around what’s worth keeping could certainly change in the coming decades. In 2065 how many of our current “landmarks” will have been demolished to make way for the next iteration of our cities?