What we do have is a complex, wholly unique conglomeration of very different, closely packed urban communities, some with histories that stretch back at least a few hundred years. To administer the city's history, to judge its architecture and cultural worth, taxpayers invest their money and trust in the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to decide what is worthy of landmark and historic designation status, and what is not.
For example, take Brooklyn's Park Slope and the northeast Queens neighborhood of Broadway-Flushing. Both are old. Both have pretty buildings. And both have historical value to the people who live there, and have lived there in the past.
According to the LPC, however, Broadway-Flushing doesn't deserve a historic designation of any size, while all of Park Slope - the entire neighborhood, every single home - is worthy of being protected forever. Go figure.
Last week the LPC rejected a proposal to have Broadway-Flushing designated as a historic district. In a letter addressed to Councilman Tony Avella, LPC Chairman Richard Tierney said the neighborhood has been too altered by recent development to be considered historically significant any longer.
Tierney objected to the "configuration of openings" and "filling in of porches" in present-day Broadway-Flushing, which is interesting because according to the federal and state governments the neighborhood's openings and filled-in porches are just fine.
The neighborhood is currently designated as a historic district by the feds and the state. Apparently, LPC's guidelines are not only stricter than Albany or Washington's, but they override them too.
In contrast, there's Park Slope, by anybody's definition a beautiful neighborhood with an unusual mix of well-preserved late-19th century architecture. A sliver of the neighborhood was designated as a historic district in 1973, yet that isn't good enough, for either Park Slope residents or the LPC.
At a meeting last week, a civic group presented the LPC with a preliminary, informal proposal to expand the existing district to include the rest of the neighborhood - or 4,500 additional buildings.
LPC Executive Director Kate Daly said the neighborhood was an "obvious candidate" for historic district expansion, and suggested the massive proposal be broken down into several smaller phases so the LPC can get to work on it as soon as possible.
We aren't questioning the credentials of the LPC - which is made up of accomplished architectural historians, preservationists and the like who certainly know how to tell a nice building from a shoddy one - only their priorities.
Share the wealth. If groups care enough about their communities to apply for historic district designation, they deserve a modicum of respect and attention, not a wholesale snub in favor of other neighborhoods that already have protected zones.
While they're at it, why doesn't LPC look a little out of its comfort zone. As the commission listened to Park Slopers extol the virtues of their brownstone empire last week, developers were busy demolishing a famous building in Downtown Brooklyn believed by many scholars to have been an Underground Railroad safe house. Talk about history ignored.