Is Congress Avenue Threatened?Preservation Texas
has declared Congress Avenue
to be one of the most endangered historic places in Texas. They say that the threat comes from tall buildings fronting and shading the steet. The group asserts that the City needs to be more aggressive in enforcing its building setback requirements.
While I appreciate their concerns, where were they when we needed them? Sixty years ago, Congress Avenue was a bustling, commercial thoroughfare. In the decades since then, retailers abandoned the street for malls and other automotive friendly locations. Now that Congress Avenue and Downtown are coming back and are alive with activity, Preservation Texas says that it is threatened.
Preservation Texas' statement, though, says more about their organization than it does about Austin. If you look at their 2004 list
of endangered places (the 2005 list has yet to be posted), you will see that it is a haphazard collection that adheres to no coherent standard of design or historical significance. Their list is in marked contrast to the list
released by the National Trust for Historic Preservation last year. If anything, Preservation Texas' list illustrates the intellectual difficulty many supporters of historic preservation face in attempting to reconcile how to integrate recognition and appreciation of the historic buildings into our contemporary lives and economies.Buildings and cities learn
and change over time. Our cities are like coral reefs. We construct them over generations with each generation building upon what has been laid down before. The Congress Avenue that we are building today is a continuation of a great streat that has waxed and waned since Edwin Waller
first surveyed it more than 150 years ago. There is no threat to Congress Avenue today, but there are some historically signifcant buildings on the street that would welcome new tenants.