The City as a Human Environment

By Duane G. Levine; Arthur C. Upton | Go to book overview

14
CONSTITUTING A PRESERVATION PLAN FOR URBAN AREAS

M. CHRISTINE BOYER


INTRODUCTION

The preservation of historic centers in American cities is a land use movement with only a fifty-year history. Charleston, South Carolina, was the first American city to attempt to regulate development pressure on its historic Battery. In 1931 when a new city-wide zoning ordinance was created, it embedded within the zoning regulations a set of design guidelines and alteration controls for the Old Historic Charleston District. This innovative use of historic area zoning gingerly transferred control over the architectural wall or the streetscape from the private to the public domain. But it raised a host of problems testing the concept of public control that both regulated private property for purely aesthetic reasons and forced new architectural designs to be consistent with specified historic standards. To avoid some of these problems, in 1937 the City of New Orleans created the Vieux Carré Historic District by passing a Louisiana constitutional amendment. Again, these regulatory controls were controversial and property owners sued. By upholding this preservation ordinance, however, the courts eventually described and expanded the legitimate terrain for aesthetic controls over private property. The importance of streetscape, already outlined in Charleston, was now extended to the "tout ensemble," and consequently the distinct historic ambience created by the spirit of place or "genius loci" came under regulatory control. As preservation activity continued to gain support in cities across the nation, joining forces with the swelling envi-

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