By David J. Barboza
Perhaps you’re already participating in SurveyLA (e.g. at MyHistoricLA.org) because you know about a special place in Los Angeles that shouldn’t slip through the cracks. But, for those who may not be sold on the benefits of the project, I want to take a look at what motivates people to do historic resources surveys in general and SurveyLA in particular.
A little history is in order. Although conducting a Citywide historic resources survey has been under consideration by the City since the 1980s, it has only become possible recently with funding support from the J. Paul Getty Trust. In 2008, before the term “SurveyLA” was coined, the Getty Conservation Institute came out with a booklet called The Los Angeles Historic Resources Survey Report: A Framework for a Citywide Historic Resources Survey. Chapter 5 gives a great overview of the multiple uses of the kind of data that SurveyLA is generating.
First of all, surveying historic resources helps us to appreciate and protect the places associated with the important people and events that have shaped our society from the Spanish colonial era, to the golden age of Hollywood, to civil rights movements and much, much more. The survey also connects us with our architectural history, which is an important aspect of our art and culture, as well as the day-to-day aesthetic experience of our lives.
Another benefit of a comprehensive citywide historic resources survey like SurveyLA is that it will provide a centralized database for historic resources information in Los Angeles. This reduces the time and expense of accessing the information. From a public agency perspective this helps out with the four basic functions historic resources data are used for: planning public and private projects; nominating historic properties for recognition and preservation; performing environmental reviews under laws like the California Enviornmental Quality Act (CEQA), and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA); and property management.
On the planning front, SurveyLA will contribute to updating the City’s community plans. These documents set the stage for land use regulations like zoning. Keeping the plans current means real estate developers know what to expect in a given area, and communities can pursue their own visions for their built environment. With survey data in hand communities will have an easier time identifying which places should be preserved and which should be given more latitude to change.
CEQA reviews will be easier as well. When projects have to undergo environmental review under CEQA, part of the process is identifying historic resources in the project area. With SurveyLA complete, that data will be centralized and easy to access, speeding up the environmental review of projects, and ensuring that historic resources aren’t overlooked in the planning process.
Economic development is another key goal of SurveyLA data. Historic resources information is used to promote the City’s Adaptive Reuse Ordinance (ARO), which allows certain older commercial buildings to be converted to residential or hotel use by tailoring parking regulations and building codes to their unique circumstances, resulting in housing and jobs that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. Adaptive reuse can also be quite efficient from an environmental perspective when compared to tearing a building down and constructing a similar one, which requires a great deal of energy and building materials. Heritage tourism is another way historic resource data helps the City’s bottom line. It’s not just the Hollywood sign and Grauman’s Chinese Theater that bring people here to visit. Los Angeles has over 1,000 Historic-Cultural Monuments and many other places of historic significance that, while perhaps not all widely known today, might become the next great reason to come visit LA.
The City also owns numerous historic properties, and with comprehensive, up-to-date, and reliable historic resource information in one place, keeping these properties up in a way that respects their unique architectural features and historical associations becomes easier as well. Ditto for private property owners.
In sum, there’s something about SurveyLA to appreciate for just about everyone, from preservationists, to art lovers, to developers, to public servants, to community members curious about their history and how to preserve and strengthen their neighborhoods going forward. It’s a team effort. If you can think of a historic place in LA that should be better known, please let us know!
For even more reasons why we’re doing SurveyLA, check out our website!