Y'all thought I was dead, didn'cha? Guess again.
I've been enjoying the discussion about historic districts. I tend to be with Ed: Prices need to be kept within limits that encourage compliance. If we encourage violation of rules with ridiculous fees, the city will just end up spending even more money placing liens on property and crap like that. And everyone loses.
But the debate between John, Gilman, and others -- and probably the essential issue surrounding the creation of historic districts -- strikes me as far more philosophical than the discussion lets on.
Namely, I think the disgreement is really over the relevant verb. Is one group's aesthetic sensibilities being pushed over everybody else's (possibly under false pretenses), or is history being preserved for future generations? The chain-link-fence discussion really brings that out, since many people think it's ugly but it has historical value under some circumstances.
I've been wrestling with this issue ever since I read a quotation from the late Nell Soto a while back, asking why she should care about Lincoln Park when her ancestors were never allowed to live there. This fact too is part of the history, and to my mind also important to preserve.
So my position is this: We need to preserve architectural history even when it's butt-ugly. By preserving it, we not only give ordinary citizens the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of past construction practices, but we also preserve the evidence of those practices for future study. If we are headed for a whomping big energy crisis -- to say nothing of a whomping big earthquake -- we may have a lot to learn from old structures for coping with forces beyond our control. Including construction practices that we may currently consider unimportant.
At the same time, we need to preserve the human and social history associated with neighborhoods (not the historical status quo, mind you, but the knowledge that it once was the status quo). History is an important way of remaining alert to the ways that social groups (whether linguistic, ethnic, religious, economic, or what have you) piss on each other (among other dealings). There are other ways to remind ourselves of this (and, one hopes, guard against it), but they tend to be more contentious than thinking about what's past and done. Just look at this discussion, which is proof that some residents of historic districts feel pissed-upon.