Nancy Kotting is a fourth generation Detroiter, former partner at Detroit MetroTimes/Alternative Media Inc., architectural historian, trainer/instructor of classical horsemanship for over 35 years and a Catholic convert. She has been published in both the U.S. and the U.K. and is a featured blogger for the Huffington Post. Watapama is an exploration of anomalies at the intersection of popular culture, politics, faith and art.
The topic that Kotting writes about is one near and dear to my heart. As Anne and I have traveled around the state of Michigan to document some of our formerly robust urban centers as they implode from the collapse of their manufacturing base and the subsequent disinvestment by the state that has taken them to a financial precipice and pushed them off, time and time again we’ve seen the gorgeous architecture and beautiful buildings and homes disintegrating, stripped of anything of value, with some burned out or collapsed into forgotten piles of rubble.
Abandoned home in Flint, Michigan. Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog.
As these cities attempt to rise again from the ashes, all too often developers, looking to cash in on the city’s financial crisis by buying up buildings and homes for pennies on the dollar, demolish them to make way for gentrifying redevelopment. These “ghosts” (as I like to call them) of Detroit and Flint and Benton Harbor and elsewhere remind us of a time when these places were once vibrant urban centers. Their demise is a tragic loss to our state as a whole.
The Republican legislation that Kotting writes about – House Bill 5232 (Senate Bill 720) – will only serve to speed up that irretrievable loss. Her essay shows how Republicans are now complicit in that destruction. It is reposted here with permission.
Does Our History Matter to the GOP?
The nationwide austerity storm, led by the GOP, has taken a particularly devastating toll on the state of Michigan. The horror that is Flint has put a much needed spotlight on the questionable behavior of state administrators as well as the human cost of neglecting sorely needed domestic programs such as infrastructure improvement.
Tragically, this is not the only form of civil disruption on the agenda of the GOP. A culturally devastating bill was recently passed in the State of Wisconsin (AB 568), a version of which is now in committee in the state of Michigan. Given this all too recognizable trend, it would behoove all other states to be on point and ready to fight this latest attack on sound, existing legislation that has the public interest as it’s number one priority in protecting this Nation’s cultural heritage.
Michigan’s past is the key to Michigan’s future
Michigan is home to an incredibly diverse history, born of our great natural wealth and beauty. This history is in large part translated and interpreted across generations through the architecture that gets left behind. Architecture that represents the experiences of a racially, culturally and economically diverse group of individuals who shared one thing in common: Michigan was their home.historic_sign_0
Michigan’s ability to preserve this architectural legacy as a teaching tool for future generations is now in the sights of an irrational faction of the GOP. Republican State Representative Chris Afendoulis has introduced House Bill 5232 (Senate Bill 720) that, at its essence, dismantles the legal structure put in place in 1970 upon which our state relies in protecting our architectural treasures, and therefore much of our tourism industry and local economies.
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
In 1970, the Michigan State Legislature enacted Public Act 169 that declares the activity of Historic Preservation as a public purpose. It provides for the legal framework by which communities can create Historic Districts by local ordinance that then serve to protect the attributes of those resources included within for the benefit of the public.
PA 169, amended only twice since 1970, has stood the test of time as a sound and useful legislative tool. Michigan now has over 78 communities that contain one or more Historic Districts that in total safeguard over 20,000 historically significant resources. While properties within Historic Districts are both publically and privately owned, the history reflected by these resources belongs, by its very nature, in the public realm and is therefore under the duty of the public to protect. PA 169, like similar legislation in place in all 50 States, has effectively done just that for over 46 years.shemmerle_2009-7161-bearbeitet
HB 5232 is an irresponsible attempt to remove such protections, politicize a process currently codified, and induce, over time, the erosion of a legacy held dear by the citizens of Michigan, under the fashionable and deceptively used GOP battle cry “property rights’.
Of most concern, HB 5232 calls for the removal of a community’s legal authority to provide emergency protection for a historic resource whose integrity is under a sudden development or demolition threat. Meaning a community would have no authority to stop a impending demolition of ANY historic resource. It would be open season on all historic buildings.
Secondly, HB 5232 effectively dissolves every single protective Historic District in Michigan in ten years. While renewal is possible, the establishment of Historic Districts under HB 5232 not only would require a 2/3 approval of property owners within the proposed district, it would require a majority approval in the next scheduled general election. This process, which HB 5232 would require every ten years for every current Historic District in the state of Michigan, places an undue burden on local communities and is simply irrational in its execution.
Third, the dissolution of an existing Historic District, currently subject to stringent criteria, would simply require the approval of an ordinance stating such by the local governing unit, rendering the process, currently codified, purely political.
Additional features of the proposed Bill can be found here.
It’s the economy, stupid.
The passage of HB 5232 would not only prove culturally devastating to Michigan, it would also potentially have a significant negative economic impact, something we surely cannot afford.
According to the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, (MHPN) a statewide advocacy group, “Properties in local historic districts appreciate faster and hold their value better than non-designated properties. Local historic districts provide a stable real estate environment. In Kalamazoo, over a 30-year period, property values in the local historic district grew by 385%, while similar properties just outside the district increased just 72%. In Grand Rapids, properties in a local historic district–Heritage Hill–grew 1200% as compared to 636% just outside the district between 1974 and 2002.”
Tourism is one of the most significant economic engines in the state with visitors spending $22.8 billion in 2014 alone. Key to Michigan’s attraction beyond our natural resources, is our heritage as experienced by visitors in such places as Mackinaw, Belle Isle, our historic light houses and the numerous historic towns and villages, many of which owe their preservation of resources to PA 169.
House Bill 5232 and accompanying Senate Bill 720 must be withdrawn from consideration immediately. Michigan residents deserve the opportunity to benefit economically from our rich and unique cultural heritage. All legal structures in place that support such opportunity must remain, and that means leaving PA 169 intact.
Ready to take action? Begin by letting the sponsoring representative know how you feel about his Bill:
State Representative Chris Afendoulis may be reached at 517-373-0218 or email him at: [email protected]
For additional action options go here.
Follow Nancy Kotting on Twitter at @Watapama1.
[Holland Historical District sign photo via the City of Holland website]