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Chicago can better protect its historic architecture with a new survey of old buildings

Data cannot age four decades and still be used as a planning tool. A new survey could create proactive preservation strategies.

While the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS) was well-intentioned, giving it the nostalgic treatment in a recent article — a veneration of the days when preservationists drove around in a Chevette, unknowingly determining the fate of thousands of historic buildings — takes away from what it represents: a policy failure.

Historic preservation deals in the past, but methodologies change as values change. Data cannot age four decades and still be used as a planning tool. We lack a matrix to protect buildings because we are still using the CHRS as a benchmark. Using the aged CHRS also defies the Landmarks Ordinance, which dictates “an ongoing survey of the City of Chicago for the purpose of identifying those areas, districts, places, buildings, structures, art, and other objects of historic or architectural significance.”

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We need a new survey. With the Department of Planning and Development seeking to reverse disinvestment and make our city more affordable, reevaluating the value of historic buildings can bridge a gap. The most affordable building is the one that already exists, with our venerable architecture serving as naturally occurring, affordable stock for businesses, renters, homeowners and developers. A new survey could link building type to other data, like the Department of Housing’s community-level count of affordable housing units. A new survey could create proactive preservation strategies, and would rely on GIS technology and apps instead of color-coded paper maps.

The 11-year long CHRS fluctuated based on funding, but with the proper backing, a new survey would take a quarter of that time. Original funders like the MacArthur and Graham Foundations are still assisting built-environment oriented projects, as do newer grant makers, like the Alphawood and Driehaus Foundations. Along with city, state and national backing, a new survey is possible.

Most important, the impact would be felt on our streets. A new survey would give neighborhood architecture acknowledgement and protection, providing opportunities for restoration and development — a tangible gift that keeps on giving.

Elizabeth A. Blasius, architectural historian, Blaservations, Inc.

Nothing wrong with ride-hailing tax

Laura Washington is wrong to criticize the city’s new ride-hailing tax. Since Uber and Lyft have decimated the taxi industry and taken its customers, they should also assume the financial obligations. Now-idle taxicabs paid the city tens of millions of dollars in fees, taxes, fines and motor fuel taxes.

How else can we fund all the wonderful progressive programs Ms. Washington supports?

If ride share costs are too much, the CTA is still a bargain at $2.50.

Michael Sullivan, Belmont