I don't think there's a unanimous agreement that, the Camdi building for example, represents a unique vernacular with very few examples left in the city. There are dozens of streetcar commercial nodes around the city, and they've all got this same kind of buildings.
Less the Camdi building (which is charming but undistinguished) than the Loring building, say, which is one of the nicer old buildings remaining in a nice streetcar node.
Define "character." And I'm serious. What does it mean, especially in this context. Is "character" defined as "architecture that is currently deemed pleasant and attractive looking?" I think the two and a half story walkup represents a mid century architectural vernacular, as a practical method of providing inexpensive multi-family housing. Proponents of preservation like to make parallels to Urban Renewal, saying that tearing down old buildings for new development is the same thing as Urban Renewal, tearing down old functional buildings to replace with new modern crap. The thing is, 50 years ago we thought turn of the century architecture was garbage and crap, and needed to be replaced with something modern. And here we are now saying a 60s apartment block is garbage and crap and has no character. And 50 years from now we're going to say that the six story stick built apartment building is going to be crap and has no character. But here we are, and turn of the century buildings are 100 years old, and we're rushing to preserve them. Mid century architecture is coming back into favor. Whose to say that in 75 years we won't look on whats being now and start to come around to it? It's the cycle of architecture. I think it's impossible to point at any architectural style and say "this has been universally loved its entire lifecycle" because that's just not true.
Character is such a wiggle word. What does it mean? How can you define it? Is there a rubric I can take to a neighborhood to figure out if it has character or not? And if there isn't, how can we legislate character? How can we zone for character? How can we preserve character if we can't define it? Does a place have character because people like it? Should we just preserve something if some people like it, even if someone else has a different view? What if someone else would like what comes next? Why doesn't their opinion count?
Of course a lot of this is going to come down to "I know it when I see it"--and that's precisely the point.
Look, I'm a fan of modern architecture, probably as much as anyone here. But I don't think we can make urbanism decisions based purely on numbers and metrics. Think about Penn Station in NY, the demolition that arguably gave birth to the historic preservation movement; on the numbers, that was an excellent
trade. Instead of an expensive-to-maintain old train station, New York got a somewhat larger (if, in retrospect, very poorly designed) station and an entertainment center on top. Of course, virtually no-one thinks that was a good trade anymore, and that's because the aesthetic and historical value of having places like old Penn Station trumps the rational value of increased building.
Imagine you had an opportunity to tear down a block of Greenwich Village 3- and 4-story buildings and replace them with a 50-story high-rise development which included affordable housing and ground-level retail. Is that a good trade? Certainly there'd be plenty of the historic Greenwich Village left, so it'd be hard to argue that would be the death of the area, but still, would you be okay with that trade? How about if it were an area of equivalently dense 1960s apartments?
I sometimes wonder if there isn't a "break the seal" effect with these kinds of demolitions; if you can get a permit to demolish one in an area, it becomes easier to justify demolishing the others in turn. Every time an old building is demolished, the "historic character" of the neighborhood is diminished and the argument for district-wide preservation becomes that much weaker. I know this is basically a slippery slope argument, but I don't think it's entirely invalid.