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This year, the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. While the law that originally created the Commission was well-intended, the current rules under which the Commission operates regulate everything from the process by which landmarks are designated to the extensive restrictions on the ability of their owners to make any exterior or interior changes in their structures, down to the last ventilation duct, awning, window opening, and fire escape. The simplest way to think about landmark designation is that it puts the city in the position of part owner of the affected buildings, which then lets it decide how these buildings are maintained and altered, without having to bear anything close to the full financial burden of its decisions. As I note in my new column for Defining Ideas, the result is a deluge of government meddling in what surely ought to be private decisions. From the piece:
Rest assured that the behavior of landmark commissions and landmark preservationists alike would change rapidly if they had to raise public or private money to fund their prized projects. At this point preservationists, like everyone else, would have to learn to live within a budget, at which point they would moderate their demands so that only the best projects would be landmarked, and only in a way which minimizes the financial burdens to their owners.
…The key to any sensible reform is to put all the government claims on budget, so that the public can deliberate sensibly about how much should be spent on landmark preservation and which projects should be selected for their the aesthetic and civic virtues.