Goal 6: An Engaged Public

Reach broader audiences and cultivate greater support through enriched storytelling and accessible communication.

A fundamental goal of preservation must be to empower people to think expansively and inclusively about the places that matter to them. The preservation movement believes that preservation benefits communities and is an effective strategy in addressing many of the most pressing issues of our time.

We need unified messages that convey the benefits of preservation in resonant ways and address common misperceptions. New technology platforms, communication channels, and multi-lingual resources can help expand our reach, attract new audiences, and enhance storytelling.

We can reduce barriers to participation by making our language more accessible and our process less complex. By raising up hidden stories and amplifying new voices we can motivate broader community support and inspire action.

Community engagement at Clayborn Temple, Memphis, Tennessee

photo by: Steve Jones

Community engagement at Clayborn Temple in Memphis, Tennessee.

Crowdsourced Actions

A few highlights of the suggested crowdsourced actions generated during focus groups are paraphrased below to stimulate conversation and further brainstorming. The source of each idea is indicated in parentheses at the end of each suggested action. If you would like to add a suggested action to this list, please email us at nationalimpactagenda@savingplaces.org.

  • Include community voices as equal participants along with trained interpretive specialists as decisions are being made about what stories to tell and how to tell them. (Source: Historic sites focus group)
  • Create bilingual tools to educate local community and create awareness around preservation tools/opportunities to support community needs. (Source: Latinos in Heritage Conservation focus group)
  • Make preservation more inclusive by using accessible language. Add more technology to improve participation. (Source: Preservation commissions focus group)
  • Explore new mediums of communication, including gaming, film, digital education, short form content, to engage younger generations in preservation. (Source: Emerging professionals focus group)
  • Create more opportunities to hear all the diverse perspectives associated with diverse sites on public lands. When we are telling painful stories, find ways to engage the voices that are the most important. (Source: Public lands stakeholders focus group)
  • Communicate that preservation is a tool for economic development, equitable real estate, and creating value in the community. Use vocabulary like heritage and culture to connect with BIPOC communities. (Source: Main Street network focus group)
  • Create consistent talking points about benefits of preservation, reuse; clearinghouse of best practices, models so we don't have to reinvent the wheel. (National Preservation Partners Network members focus groups)
  • Develop robust and relevant data-driven metrics on the benefits of preservation. (Sources: National Preservation Partners Network members focus group)
  • Create educational tools to better explain the processes of preservation including where to start if you have little money. (Source: Main Street network focus group)
  • Create a public relations campaign to explain how preservation has changed and is changing. (Source: National Council for Preservation Education focus group)
  • Make preservation more inclusive by using accessible language, adding more technology to improve participation. (Source: National Alliance of Preservation Commissions focus group)
  • Demystify the esoteric nature of preservation to overcome perception that you need a Ph.D. to do preservation work. (Source: Emerging professionals focus group)
  • Improve communications and messaging around the work of preservation, and engage people who love history, and tell stories but don't identify with "Preservation." (Source: Emerging professionals focus group)
  • Data management is a big part of how to measure something. Need to partner with research and data organizations to be able to capture this. (Source: Architects focus group)
  • Preservation issues always emerge at 11th hour. Would be nice to ensure land use decisions consider preservation in advance. All people involved must recognize the value of the space so that we can think about how we can protect places instead of trying to convince people why we need to.” (Source: PastForward listening sessions)
  • At the local level, we can better utilize our preservation offices to do community engagement and outreach to understand what is important to communities. From there we can act as a facilitator for what may work for them in terms of preservation tools or not.” (Source: PastForward listening sessions)
  • There is lack of knowledge about preservation itself. There are so many negative narratives out there (e.g. can’t do anything to something that’s designated, it’s elitist, so expensive, etc.). Have to spend time unraveling the negative narrative which can feel like it becomes a battle. (Source: PastForward listening sessions)

Case Studies

We hope the case studies below will inspire and inform your work in preservation. To reflect a fuller spectrum of the preservation movement as it continues to grow, we will continue to crowdsource and add additional examples over time. Please send additional case study ideas to nationalimpactagenda@savingplaces.org.

  • To celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary, Historic Denver organized a crowd-sourcing campaign to seek out “50 Actions for 50 Places” that are important to people in Denver, asking people to submit suggestions of places “I can’t imagine Denver without…”  About 40% of the sites in the 50 Actions campaign tell underrepresented stories of women, LGBTQ and BIPOC, including many sites Historic Denver was not aware of prior to the campaign.
  • In Austin, Texas, preservationists collaborated with community members on the Translating Community History Project to celebrate and preserve important sites and stories in racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. The project included short videos and multi-lingual heritage catalogs that wove together historical and present-day narratives, door-to-door outreach, and community meetings that featured local storytellers instead of staff and consultant presentations.
  • In 2021, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation kicked off a “Preserving Hope” campaign which featured photos of their board, staff and members standing in front of historic places holding a #PreservingHope sign. The historic sites chosen where those which played key roles in treating pandemics, scenes of Civil or LGBTQ rights struggles, and sites related to other traumatic events in Georgia history. The campaign has spread to other Georgia cities and was picked up by preservationists in Mississippi and Louisiana to commemorate rescue efforts on the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
  • The City of San Antonio, Texas has created the  Amazing Preservation Race and the Amazing Preservation Race for Kids historic scavenger hunts to engage youth and other new audiences in exploring historic resources in its city.
  • The Oakwood Cemetery Chapel, as part of the City of Austin, Texas's Parks and Recreation Department, collaborates with heritage groups, schools, and individuals to create digital history and geography projects. Educational resources include cited research on Native Americans, Tejanos, African Americans and European immigrants who created the culture of Austin.
  • Recognizing that realtors are ideally positioned to help new homeowners purchasing historic homes, cities like San Antonio, Texas, have created a “Realtor Certification” program to certify realtors as Historic House Specialists in partnership with the San Antonio Board of Realtors Real Estate Academy. 
  • HGTV’s “Cheap Old Houses” also offers online subscriptions to help people who love old houses find listings for affordable historic homes across the country.
  • The City of San Antonio launched two local markers programs to celebrate local history.  There’s a Story Here captures crowd-sourced stories in popular culture and History Here is a local-version of the Texas marker programs with a much lower barrier to entry – both financially and academically—in order to capture previously under told stories. 
  • The Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour uses tangible and intangible heritage to tell the story of four generations of immigrant activists in Berkeley, CA. The two-mile long walking tour, which shares the stories of Berkeley’s South Asian freedom fighters, feminists and more, is based on oral histories and was recognized with a national award from the Asian Pacific Islanders for Historic Preservation.
  • NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project documents and maps historic places connected to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in New York City, highlighting the profound influence of the LGBT community on American history and culture. Organized by curated themes, the public can explore over 385 sites through an interactive map and self-guided tours via smart phone.

Next Steps: Commitments to Action

We are focused on developing an assessment tool and resources for the National Trust and other preservation agencies, organizations, firms, and leaders around the country to evaluate their existing and future initiatives and shed light on how these goals can further align with the priorities identified in the crowdsourced Leading the Change Together. We aim to share more in the coming months and to provide opportunities for preservationists to showcase their initiatives and leadership in redefining the U.S. preservation movement today. Please check back for updates.

Now accepting nominations for the 2024 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places! Letters of Intent are due September 29, 2023.

Learn More