HOUSTON – (Commentary by Ralph Bivins of Realty News Report) – Last year, more than 10 million tourists visited the Vieux Carre, a historic district created in 1718. Less than 4,000 people live there, but people come from all over the world visit to eat its food, drink its Hurricane cocktails and see its stucco and brick buildings with great balconies and decorative ironwork.
The City of New Orleans protects the Vieux Carre, which most people call the “French Quarter” or simply, “The Quarter.” Since the 1920s, it’s been illegal to demolish a building in the French Quarter. Regulations restrict and review the renovations planned by property owners.
If the old buildings weren’t there – if the historic architecture had met the wrecking ball – the French Quarter would be nothing more than an asterisk in a history book.
Without the French Quarter, New Orleans wouldn’t have the tourism dollars, the great hotels and a convention industry. If the buildings in the French Quarter were 20 years old, instead of 200 years old, nobody would be interested.
It’s not just New Orleans. Historic structures are vital in Rome, Paris and almost any great city.
Houston has been too careless with its historic assets.
“Preservation has not been a high priority for Houston,” says architect John Cryer III, immediate part president of Preservation Houston.
Our rubble is too deep. The mistakes are sad. Houston should be ashamed.
But Cryer believes Houstonians are becoming more aware to the benefits of saving buildings that make the city a more interesting and beautiful place.
And it’s not just commercial buildings that are important. Consider The Heights, a popular neighborhood with a lot of historic homes and expensive bungalows. How popular would The Heights be if its houses were 3-2-2 starter homes built in the 1970s?
Somehow, in Houston’s free-market, laissez-faire attitude about development, city leaders became confused. They thought it was smart to let developers tear down old buildings. They thought it was good business to let wrecking balls crush historic structures so something new could be built.
It’s not smart. It’s not good business.
Houston needs to repent of our sins against historic properties.