Whenever anyone says ‘Historic Preservation’ I reach for my hoary cliches.

I have immigrant creds. A kind of middling, inconstant cred (did I make that obvious enough?), leaving me at the short end of the stick, regardless of which I grab: on one hand, you have those who draw the line at Mayflower passengers; at the other, you have the expectation of speaking the native language at home and every meal is a Miramax — sorry, Weinstein Company — Lives piece/book/film package waiting to happen.

I now live in the ‘richest’ immigrant neighborhood left in lower Manhattan. You know, the one with Pianos and Clinton Street Baking, those bastions of immigrant experience. Our standard bearer is the Tenement Museum — the Lil’ Museum that Could — could, you know, drop $7 mil on two tenements, and then try to foist on the neighborhood a historic district designation that portends endless committee meetings about the best way to ‘preserve’ low quality construction in the name of authenticity and federal tax breaks. Joy.

I don’t know that a generalized history of immigrants can, or should, be written. The breadth and depth is a fascinating truth to the history of this city. And, like it or not, it is migrating east to places like Jackson Heights. Immigrant tales are nomadic by definition, and immigrants, if my direct experience is accurate in any way, are in a hurry to jettison large swaths of their distant and recent past. Until of course, they can send their kids to good schools, who then grow up wanting to be film students, historic preservationists, and dilettante bloggers.

Though some neighborhoods resist the process, the is path entrenched, if the cultures aren’t: move in, move up, move out. The cycle of alienation and poverty drives aggressive assimilation, and then something I’ll leave to faceless CNN pundits to argue about. The physical remnants are rather arbitrary (marginal, cheap, crowded), and in constant flux: if the population is fixed, improvements follow, if they are transient, then they are displaced by new waves of economic aspirants. The apartments in these ‘authentic’ buildings are unexceptional in every way possible. The only aspect that might truly be informative culturally would be trying to inhabit one with 6 or 10 roommates, and that isn’t an option, no matter how much you are a winsome NYU student with a daddy who has some leftover office space.

I never understood the urge that impelled historic preservationists. They always struck me as less capable archivists (I used to live in one of the preservation capitals). Busybodies, mostly. People who professed a Caleb Carr sensibility. And a good generation or two removed from the economic and social struggles of any immigrant. Even though my maturation — design, academic, life — happened under the guise of a preservation instinct inherited a decidedly more sinister social order, I don’t find the ideological bases to be all that significant. It really is the urge to tell the neighbors how tall their grass should be, or what color to paint the windows that drives all this action, and you can find those folks across the political spectrum.

So the Tenement Museum, spreading like the plague that is any museum, wants to lock down all of of CB3. The local property owners, a considerable number of whom are immigrants and their descendants, raised a collective middle finger. The counter-argument of ‘sensitive redevelopment’ is the Blue Moon Hotel, which, like the other nearby nasty blue project, is a piece of shit standing proudly over Delancy, a series of hopelessly bad design decisions. Which, to some degree, is historically accurate. As true as it is that do gooder preservation regulations will inevitably inhibit what you can do to your hard-won property, it is likewise certain than any immigrant-rich neighborhood will feature truly abominable architectural experiments. That’s irony, I guess.

It’s tiresome to see regional planning wedged under the guise of preservation. Because those preservationists often don’t know or care about the utility — nay, the necessity — of good city planning, they really do end up worried about window detailing. In neighborhoods where some semblance of quality was evident at it’s genesis, this isn’t a bad thing (and, really, anything to stop the profusion of cables that dangle from the front of every apartment building thanks to lazy phone and cable installers is a good idea), but since the only thing worth preserving in the entirety of this neighborhood is the quality of the brick work, the one effect a preservation code is quick to ensure is accelerated gentrification, since no one wants to have to hire a lawyer every time they need to fix a window.

Then again, as long as the Tenement Museum keeps buying up buildings, at least those last few immigrant who get pushed out can at least come back and see the place their landlord didn’t fix the heat for six months while charging usurious rents, all of it carefully shellaced and plaqued.

IT’S NOT ALL wrong to have this conversation because it does underscore the importance to assert that a city government has the duty to establish order and regulation for growth. The canard that undermining the market in the form of regulation is bad for overall economic growth is usually proffered at this point in the argument, though anyone who still falls for it has never been to SoHo. As attractive a template as SoHo is to some, especially now that the decline of the dollar has pretty much affixed a ‘Kick Me’ sign on our collectives backs for every tinpot Euronaire you can find, it is not a template that can be stamped out willy-nilly. Yet, if you look at the map of Manhattan, you will find that mostly this is the plan. And looking both local and further afield, you will see the ancillary effects: Atlantic Yards, waterfront development in LIC and Williamsburg, all if it engineered to benefit most acutely those with the least civic interest: developers and their amoral lackeys: Scarano and Kondylis. Though Scarano, being a clever sot, has evolved (if such a term can be fairly used) himself into the source vector.

Back in the hood, the effects can be readily summarized by the action on the corner of Ludlow and Houston. Head of the nightlife snake no one likes, home to the most storied food establishment in the LES, and now inextricably soiled by an intervention that makes the cheeky irony of Red Square look inspired instead of just craven. ‘The Ludlow’ promises to be the ‘oughts Christodora House, and its presence and success leads inevitably to more dire discussions: last week, it was rumored that the owners of Katz’s are considering cashing in.

And what do you say to them? That their success and commitment to the neighborhood, which extends decades, should justify penalizing them while carpetbaggers are carpet bombing our neighborhood with residential carbuncles of every stripe? There is no way that promises to retain the character of the original, one of the most pleasant dining rooms in the city, of any scale, can be effectively carried out. The only way to truly do this would be to prop up what ever payout mechanism the Katz’s folk pursue (but you can bet it will be shilled as ‘luxury’) on top of jacks while the original Katz’s squats underneath like the Little House. It would be both effective and an honest representation, so you can be sure there’s no chance.

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