WHY CHICAGO FIRE PISSED ME OFF TONIGHT (A LESSON IN BASIC HISTORIC PRESERVATION)
Why I feel I am qualified to say this shit: I have a bfa in historic preservation, a minor in architectural history, and a concentration in preservation planning and real estate law.
- •Chicago Fire is the second tv show I've seen in the past two months to get things seriously, seriously wrong about basic historic preservation policyLimitless was the first. Limitless was also much worse than Chicago Fire but that's a list for another day (and will involve me copying and pasting the email I sent to CBS and the show runners, but I digress)
- •This is a show that has 8~ million viewers, who now all likely have a completely incorrect notion of how to go about using preservation in the correct way.(And by correct I strictly mean legal)
- •Plot line on the show: some characters own a bar that they bought and renovated 2 seasons ago. Some NIMBY yuppies moved in next door and decided it was too loud. The guys who own the bar get a notice that there was a code violation (the bar was 13ft from the curb when it should have been 15ft) and the bar was shut down immediately.Okay, so ignoring the fact that these people didn't do ANY research into the house they were going to buy, this "code issue" would have been solved two seasons ago when the applied for a certificate of occupancy (what they need to legally allow people in the building/run a bar out of). The would have applied for a variance and it would have been denied or granted. In this case, it would have been granted because it was an historic structure. Done, case closed, plot line over.
- •So the new firefighter (he does not own the bar) calls his "friend in construction" to see if he can help. The friend goes to the bar (with literally a tape measure for emphasis) and tells him he can't do anything. But wait!!! He asks when the building was built - "before prohibition" someone tells him.Here we have just basic stupidity - the first question out of this "friend in construction's" mouth should have been what year was this built, because he would need to look at what is and is not grandfathered into current building codes. He could have done all of this without getting up from his computer and been far more productive.
- •Then he literally taps on the fucking outside of the building and declares "this is an old school and rare Chicago limestone." Then new firefighter finds the guys who own the bar&tells them he saved the day because "he went to the historical society of the city, filled out a form,&they approved it on the spot!" New firefighter has saved the day!!!!Except, no. Not at all.
- •The last segment was where my biggest problem was. Unless every person on that review board knew EXACTLY what building it was, the history of the building, and could know without a doubt that the building had this specific, super rare limestone, there is absolutely zero chance in hell that it is "approved on the spot"This "I filled out a form and it's saved!!!!" bullshit is the worst, because it's actually a longer, more intensive process and will include: a site history, conditions assessment, and a statement of significance (at the very least). Once approved for historical status, the real fun begins. The owners would need to apply for a variance due to that historical status. That would then need to be approved by the dept of buildings and the zoning board.
- •What Chicago Fire did was take a construction/zoning problem and try to fix it by saying the building was old and important.Which is not technically incorrect, but it's also not correct either.
- •I'm upset about this because by reducing this down to a single form and 45 minute process, it continues the reputation of "preservation when it's convenient" and "preservation as a hobby"Instead of a hobby, it's very real career path for people who believe in the importance of historical fabric as a cultural and economic entity. Its the hobby mindset that causes preservation to be cast aside in so many places across the country and world. The process they reduced down to a single form in this show? That's someone's job. Completely disregarding that person&the real, not Dick Wolf created, way that preservation works is extremely disrespectful to anyone who works in this field.
- •Am I absolutely crazy for being upset with the b plot on a (recently) shitty show? Yeah, definitely. But historic preservation has a whole host of problems, and this should not be one of them.