Issue 6, 2014. December-January


THE ECONOMICS OF PRESERVATION spoke with two specialists in preservation as part of the series of experts invited to Georgia within the Cultural Heritage a Universal Value Pilot Project from the US Embassy in Georgia in Cooperation with Lena Kiladze and the American Friends of Georgia.

Save a building, create a job

In the tug a war between development and preservation, the fight in Tbilisi goes, nearly always, to development.

Two top preservationists from New York City, however, came to Tbilisi with a different message: preserving the city's historic architecture can also bolster the economy, attract investment and create jobs.

In New York City - undoubtedly not a city that is shy about building new high-rise buildings or unfamiliar with the 21st century attraction of the glass office complex - preservation has brought tourism, investment, employment and higher property values.

Historic Pennsylvania Station in New York City

The city's tourism sector has been a clear winner when it comes to preserving the jewels of the city, noted Tara Kelly, the executive director of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. Property values have also benefited, she noted - making it more attractive for responsible investment.

"People come to New York because it is New York. People come for its historic landmarks; for the Empire State Buildin; for the Chrysler Building; for our museums; for Central Park, which is landmarked, too," she said.

Kelly added that while there is "tension" between the real estate community and the preservation community in New York City, statistics have shown that "neighborhoods that have been preserved actually have higher property values than comparable neighborhoods that are unprotected."

Peg Breen, the president of The New York Landmarks Conservancy, noted that unique architecture also attracts investmen. For New York City, preserved brownstone buildings and historic neighborhoods have been a magnet for the city's budding tech industry.

"People want to live in historic districts; in New York City the tech industry has become much more important. They are not going into glass office buildings. They are going into funky old buildings in interesting neighborhoods," she said.

"It affects the quality of life of the citizenry; it certainly draws tourism."

Breen stressed that historic architecture is a resource - one that should be promoted just like every other resource the city is using to build up the economy. Preservation creates jobs for architects, craftspeople, historians and scores of other professionals who are necessary components of the process, she noted.

"When you lose an old building, it is just gone. You want people who are going to protect your history, not destroy it," Breen said.

"It can be very important to Tbilisi's economic future if they promote the needed resources in buildings that they have, let alone that it is going to be a nicer city just to live in."

She noted that while there is a "Shanghai complex" at the moment in international urban development where "everyone thinks 'oh, we need giant glass towers.'"

"Nobody comes to a city to see a giant glass tower. I don't think there are many people who are going to go home and say 'you know, you have got to go to Tbilisi to see the giant glass bridge,'" she said.

"It is the uniqueness and the character and the history that really draws people."

Getting the law right

To make the economic argument for preserving a building, however, citizens have to have the proper tools to advocate and protect the city's architecture and green spaces.

Both Breen and Green stressed the importance of having a strong legal basis to anchor the argument for preservation. In New York, it is the Landmark Law, which was passed in response to public outrage of the city's decision to tear down the historic Pennsylvania Station building in 1963.

The law is one of the strongest in the nation and provides residents and policy makers with the tools to advocate for and protect the buildings, landmarks, green spaces, and neighborhoods that are a vital part of the city.

Breen noted that in Tbilisi, in addition to a "good law that talks about the importance of protecting historic architecture and an agency that focuses on that, you need a place where the public can have a say."

The first step forward for Tbilisi, noted Green, should be making the case for preservation.

"Buildings are the our most tangible evidence of our history and our past. They should be celebrated. Even parts of our past that are difficult. It is important to maintain the memories for the future, for future generations," she said.

"Once they are gone, they are gone. So any activity to alter any aspect of historic Tbilisi should be considered very carefully and thoughtfully."