Donovan Rypkema, the historic preservation and economic development expert, was here this week from Washington, D.C. for a lecture sponsored by Historic Seattle.
I went to his lecture Thursday and spoke to him Friday morning. He had been out with his camera, wandering First Hill and downtown and snapping photos of older blocks and newer developments. He said Seattle has really changed in the 20 years he’s been watching it.
“I’ve loved (Seattle) because of its grittiness and that’s rapidly disappearing,” he said.
He said he was also surprised we don’t have more historic districts in our great, historic town. Rypkema believes historic preservation is key to economic development but has a special affinity for historic districts. Unlike one historic building, where preservation can be seen as an economic burden on a building owner, he said, a district sees all its values rise.
He said rehabbing a historic building is the greenest construction there is and said there is no function in today’s world that couldn’t happily be housed in yesterday’s building. He said churches, universities and hospitals are the worst at claiming they need to raze historic buildings to suit their modern needs.
“Developers are often painted as the villains in neighborhoods but the biggest villains in neighborhoods are churches hospitals and universities,” he said Friday. “They screw up more neighborhoods than anyone else in the country.”
At the Thursday lecture at Wallingford’s lovely Good Shepherd Center, Rypkema said historic districts also: have stabler prices and are better equipped to ride out economic downturns, and draw better tourists and do a better job overall at supporting the local economy than new construction (because more money goes to workers than materials, and then the workers spend that cash locally).
Seattle has seven historic districts: Ballard Avenue, Columbia City, Fort Lawton, Harvard-Belmont, the International District, Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square. For comparison, Portland has 13 historic districts and seven conservation districts.
Read the entire text of Rypkema’s lecture for yourself, and read his own blog about his recent trips to Seattle and Portland.