We are all familiar with individuals who are physically attractive but possess the character of Bernie Madoff. Rational people realize that we cannot judge an individual’s character by his appearance. Houston’s preservation movement disagrees. It holds that character is determined solely by appearance.
For more than two decades, preservationists have been leading an attack on property rights in Houston. Today, property owners in historical districts cannot alter the exterior of their buildings without a “certificate of appropriateness” from the Houston Archeological and Historic Commission.
Preservationists make a number of arguments in support of their draconian measures. Perhaps the most frequent is that they want to preserve the character of Houston’s older neighborhoods. But the character that they want to preserve is only skin deep–they only want to preserve appearances.
Character is “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.” Preservationists want buildings in historic districts to retain the architectural appearance of buildings constructed at the beginning of the twentieth century. This, they claim, will protect the character of their neighborhood.
But character does not come from appearance. An individual’s character is not determined by his physical beauty or lack thereof. His character is determined by what he is–by his ideas and actions. The same is true of a neighborhood.
Preservationists would have us believe that the character of older neighborhoods is determined by the appearance of the buildings. In truth, the character of a neighborhood is determined by the ideas embraced by its residents and the actions that they take. And by their actions, preservationists have made the nature of their character clear.
Preservationists believe that brute force is an appropriate way to deal with those who disagree with them. They believe that it is proper to prohibit individuals from demolishing or changing the appearance of certain buildings. They believe that it is proper to severely penalize those who act contrary to their desires (fines for violating the preservation ordinance can be as much as $500 per day).
Preservationists do not dress like the typical street thug. But as we know, appearances can be deceiving.