NEW YORK • Broadway. The backbone of New York City, the most famous road in the world. Home to the Canyon of Heroes, Trinity Church, City Hall, Macy's, MTV, Lincoln Center, Columbia. A landmark, surely. In places, yes, but not in its entirety.
Broadway's constantly shifting character may be the secret to its dynamism - an argument both for safeguarding it from further development and for allowing its unimpeded evolution.
After five years of study, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission decided recently that 21 buildings on Broadway it had considered protecting were unworthy of that honour.
In an unanimous vote that took many by surprise, the commission decided that the buildings, all between 89th and 109th streets and built between 1871 and 1927, would be excluded from an expansion of the Riverside-West End Historic District.
The character of Broadway is distinct, the commission argued, something quite different from the purely residential blocks of West End Avenue and Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the main arteries of the historic district.
The decision has inflamed a debate as old as the landmarks law itself... If there is too much development, can there also be too much preservation?
It will now include more than 1,250 buildings overlooking the Hudson River from 70th Street north.
Ms Lisa Kersavage, the commission's director of special projects and strategic planning, explained that the staff was recommending against protecting the Broadway buildings "because of the heterogeneous and commercial character of the Broadway streetscape".
The decision has inflamed a debate as old as the landmarks law itself - celebrating its 50th year - a debate as old in some sense as Broadway: If there is too much development, can there also be too much preservation? Where and how can a city grow, and is it the new or the old that gives it its spirit?
The decision may be the clearest view yet of how Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration views its responsibility for the city's historic buildings, as it tries to balance the desire for protecting existing buildings while also ushering in new ones.
Standing at Broadway and 90th Street, now excluded from the historic district, one can easily see what is at stake - and what is not.
The Cornwall, on the north side of that corner, is a quintessential pre-war building, a 12-storey layer cake of luscious red bricks and terracotta icing with two bays of apartments, filigreed corners and balconies.
At its base are a diner, a liquor store, a dry cleaner and a locksmith, all diminutive and neon-lit.
It is a fine example of classic New York City architecture from the Jazz Age explosion, when the city fully came into its own and became the capital of the world.
But this is not the Broadway of the Apthorp, the Ansonia, Zabar's and Lincoln Center. Spectacular as the building may be, even the authors of the AIA Guide to New York City, that bible of street wandering, call the Cornwall "normal but nice".
Perhaps the city is lucky to have so many riches that they become normal.
NEW YORK TIMES