By Carla Capizzi
The newly restored, historic 15 Washington Street building at Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) was a fitting setting on Dec. 8 for a national conference, “Legacy City Preservation: A National Conversation on Innovation + Practice,” which highlighted innovation in urban development preservation in Newark while releasing a nine-point “Action Agenda for Historic Preservation in Legacy Cities.”
Legacy cities are older industrial urban areas, such as Newark and Detroit, which experienced decades of significant population and job loss, resulting in higher residential vacancy and diminished public capacity and resources. In these cities, the special challenge is preserving places that are economically poor but historically rich, according to conference participant Alan Mallach, an expert on housing, economic development, and urban revitalization with the Center for Community Progress. The Action Plan recognizes that these cities have “great amounts of human capital” and works to use this capital to “turn liabilities into assets,” explained Cara Bertron, chair of the Preservation Rightsizing Network, which organized the program with the American Assembly, based at Columbia University, and RU-N.
The Legacy City Preservation conference provided insights into efforts to revitalize and preserve landmarked buildings across the country, like Newark’s Hahne & Company Department Store — which previously sat vacant for 30 years — and the fight to help sustain historic neighborhoods across the nation. The event culminated with an insider’s tour of the iconic Newark store, currently being renovated by L+M Development Partners, Inc., working with several community partners including RU-N. The redeveloped building will include a Whole Foods supermarket, additional retail and office space, and 170 rental residential units.
RU-N is developing nearly 50,000 square feet in the building as an arts collaborator—dubbed “Express Newark”—where people from the community and university co-create, experiment and innovate, engage in creative practice, foster democratic dialogue, and promote positive transformation in Newark.
The Hahne project incorporates many of the pivotal principles advocated by the Action Agenda, which aims to preserve places that reflect the lives and stories of the people who have lived in, and continue to live in, legacy cities, noted Nancy Cantor, chancellor of RU-N. The event organizers, recognizing this, embraced Express Newark and the Hahne’s project as an “exemplar of how the Action Agenda can be implemented,” according to Cantor, and “highlighted the Action Agenda by highlighting an anchor institution like RU-N, the city and partners with which we are engaged, and a major preservation project (Hahne’s) that they feel is a beacon showing the way forward in the preservation movement.”
The challenge to legacy cities, says Cantor, is to preserve the stories of past generations while incorporating the voices of new generations, which is “precisely what we have in mind with our university-community collaboratory we are developing in the Hahne & Company building and precisely why we think the name of our collaboratory, ‘Express Newark,’ is so apt. We are thrilled to be working with the Preservation Rightsizing Network to advance this shared agenda.”
Cantor detailed plans for Express Newark, including a community media center, a gallery, studios for portrait photography, book arts and printing, and performance space. A 2017 opening date is envisioned.
The conference program for the afternoon was a closed session discussion about the future of preservation in legacy cities among 40 urban development experts and advocates from Detroit, Cleveland, and Philadelphia, among others. The evening session was open to the public and attended by approximately 200 people from more than 40 cities and a variety of professions. Cantor opened the session with a discussion of the importance of preservation—both of buildings and of the stories of the people who inhabit them—in RU-N’s pursuit of its mission as as an anchor institution in Newark. Seven guest speakers offered engaging, fast-paced slide presentations on preservation projects and approaches ranging from land banks to data-driven, community-led decision-making. RU-N professor Nick Kline and RU-N artist-in-residence Adrienne Wheeler presented on their innovative GlassBook Project/Krueger-Scott Oral Histories project, which preserves and re-interprets the stories of Newark residents who came to the city during the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North.
Another Newark icon was remembered and honored at the event: RU-N’s beloved late Dr. Clement Price, a celebrated scholar, teacher, and Newark city historian. Price was posthumously honored by three national organizations, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Preservation Rightsizing Network, for his countless contributions over the course of his career as a quintessential public historian. Kathleen Crowther, president of the Cleveland Restoration Society, described Price as a “shining star in our field. He was a scholar and an educator who came to historic preservation later in his life, as he himself said. Yet his involvement seemed to be the perfect culmination of his vast knowledge of American history, his deep caring for all people and especially for his abiding concern for achieving social equity in Legacy Cities.”
Hahne‘s Rebirth as Express Newark Cited as Redevelopment Model
Also at the evening session, Bertron described the action agenda that was unveiled at the event and is built around nine action items to better integrate preservation efforts into the revitalization of communities that have suffered major economicand population declines. By following these action plans, preservationists would not conflict with revitalization efforts but instead be effective partners in strengthening legacy cities.
“Current low demand often leads to a short-term decision to demolish, without consideration of the long-term implications of such actions, notes Stephanie Ryberg-Webster, assistant professor of urban studies and interim program director, Master of Urban Planning & Development, College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. “While demolition is, at times, necessary, preservation offers cities a chance to capitalize on assets, restore walkable neighborhoods, and generally inject vibrancy into long-neglected buildings and neighborhoods.” Cleveland State University was one of the co-sponsors of the Dec. 8 program.
Organized in three themes, the items suggest practical next steps that align with potential partners at local, regional, and national levels:
SHAPE A NEW APPROACH TO PRESERVATION IN LEGACY CITIES
• Recognize unique legacy city challenges
• Engage and listen to local communities
• Use data to support and improve good practices
ADAPT PRESERVATION TOOLS AND POLICIES TO MEET LEGACY CITY NEEDS
• Create a toolkit for preserving the built environment
• Develop new financing mechanisms for building stabilization and rehabilitation
• Reform local policies to encourage preservation
• Align federal programs and policies to better support legacy cities
SUPPORT PLACE-BASED COLLABORATION
• Build local coalitions
• Participate in the broader community of legacy city thinkers
About the Preservation Rightsizing Network
The Preservation Rightsizing Network (PRN) works with legacy cities to preserve local heritage and revitalize the built environment. It provides ways to engage, share best practices, and develop new tools to strengthen communities for the future.