Historic Preservation and Its Even Less Authentic Alternative

27 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2016 Last revised: 17 Sep 2016

Date Written: September 9, 2016


Historic preservation regulations are costly, contentious, and – as best we can tell – tend to promote residential segregation. Preservation as practiced in the United States also tells historical tales in a way that is inevitably selective, often more attuned to contemporary needs than historical objectivity, and likely to signal current residents and visitors about whose stories aren’t worth commemorating. Yet historical preservation, even to its critics, can further desirable goals. This essay examines traditional historic preservation strategies while also considering two potential alternatives, neither of which has received much attention. The first alternative to traditional historic preservation – fake history – is employed on a large scale in the fastest growing residential community in the United States. The essay provides a case study of the use of fake history and theming in The Villages, Florida, revealing both the strategy’s potential for generating low-cost cultural resonance and its pitfalls. The possible connections between The Villages’ omnipresent theming and its disturbingly homogenous demographics are explored. The essay suggests that The Villages’ alternative to historic preservation might be replicated elsewhere and speculates about the demographic results of efforts to create more inclusive fake historical narratives. A second, and novel, alternative to traditional historic preservation would select sites for historic preservation restrictions at random within a given community. Many of the problems associated with the way historic preservation regulations are implemented in the United States stem from the arbitrary and occasionally ugly battles over what to preserve and what to erase. Historic preservation becomes a battlefield for cultural warfare. Compared with this alternative, the case for randomly preserving in each city a few blocks that date from each particular era, while letting market forces dictate what gets preserved or destroyed elsewhere, may be surprisingly strong.

Keywords: Historic Preservation, the Villages, Segregation, Randomization, Exclusionary Vibes, Exclusionary Amenities, History, Land Use

Suggested Citation

Strahilevitz, Lior, Historic Preservation and Its Even Less Authentic Alternative (September 9, 2016). U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 594; University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 777; Kreisman Working Papers Series in Housing Law and Policy No. 41. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2838456 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2838456

Lior Strahilevitz (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-834-8665 (Phone)
773-702-0730 (Fax)

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