Goal 4: Equitable Communities

Intentionally harness the power of preservation to respond to historic and current inequities and be accountable to present-day needs.

To ensure that preservation benefits residents and businesses across a broader range of communities, preservationists recognize the need to apply an equity lens to all aspects of preservation work and promote greater accountability.

Deeper community participation can shape preservation efforts to better address local conditions and needs. Particularly in communities that have been impacted by historic inequities such as redlining, environmental racism, and other discriminatory policies that have disproportionately affected communities of color, change is needed to ensure preservation is responsive to these realities.

Innovations such as programs that support building reuse for inclusive housing, pairing preservation with intentional anti-displacement policies and affordability measures, flexible design guidelines, incentives for smaller projects, housing conservation districts, and legacy business support programs offer examples of how preservation practice can evolve to support more equitable communities.

Sign: Stop the Demolition of Affordable Housing

photo by: Adrian Fine/LA Conservancy

Signs from a demonstration for affordable housing in Los Angeles, California.

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.

  • Foster community empowerment and self-determination—promote the ability for people to have the authority to manage the places we directly descend from (rather than outsiders focus group). Take back authority and assert the roles of descendants as the stewards of our history and cultural practices. (Source: Pacific Islander heritage professionals focus group)
  • Review existing design guidelines to ensure that preserving integrity does not result in preservation laws being used as a tool to keep out affordable housing. (Source: Main Street network focus group)
  • Build up real estate arms of preservation orgs, leverage community land trusts, tools of real estate, funding for capital projects, etc. (Source: Latinos in Heritage Conservation focus group)

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.

  • Foster community empowerment and self-determination—promote the ability for people to have the authority to manage the places we directly descend from (rather than outsiders focus group). Take back authority and assert the roles of descendants as the stewards of our history and cultural practices. (Source: Pacific Islander heritage professionals focus group)
  • Review existing design guidelines to ensure that preserving integrity does not result in preservation laws being used as a tool to keep out affordable housing. (Source: Main Street network focus group)
  • Build up real estate arms of preservation orgs, leverage community land trusts, tools of real estate, funding for capital projects, etc. (Source: Latinos in Heritage Conservation focus group)

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.

  • Chicago’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund uses revenue generated from downtown development to finance commercial and cultural projects in neighborhoods that lack private investment. Ten percent of this fund is allocated to the Adopt-a-Landmark Fund available to locally landmarked structures with funding priority given to neighborhood anchors and commercial buildings located within Qualified Investment Areas and INVEST South/West community areas.
  • The Providence Preservation Society’s 2021 strategic plan to “democratize preservation” is an intentional effort to make preservation relevant to a broader city-wide audience around shared values of creating vibrant, healthy and safe neighborhoods with affordable housing. The plan acknowledges the role of this historically white organization in Rhode Island in contributing to displacement, placing an explicit focus on racial equity to confront this past moving forward.
  • Recognizing that treaties between Indigenous peoples and the United States affect virtually every part of the country, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Indigenous Digital Archives and the National Archives and Records Administration’s Offices of Innovation and Research Services teamed up to create a digital archive at DigiTreaties.org of 374 Ratified Indian Treaties.  These records provide a valuable online resource about the histories and agreements made for our shared lands.
  • The Preservation Resource Center’s Revival Grants Program is providing free home repairs to help low-income New Orleans homeowners get back into compliance with the city’s historic district code to avoid violations and fines, helping owners maintain their homes and remain in their homes and neighborhoods. This successful program, which was piloted in the Tremé historic district in November 2019, is being expanded to historic districts citywide.
  • Two revolving funds managed by Columbus Landmarks in Ohio are helping to build equity in transitional neighborhoods while preserving the city's historic building fabric. The Endangered Properties Fund helps with the acquisition of at-risk historic commercial properties while the Home Preservation Loan Fund offers low-interest loans in neighborhoods that have experienced disinvestment. 
  • The City of Austin, Texas is developing an equity-based preservation plan to replace its 1981 preservation plan. An inclusive, community-oriented process centers on a 26-member community working group that reflects Austin’s racial and ethnic diversity and represents key stakeholder perspectives. Equity is integrated through an equity evaluation framework for draft recommendations, as well as a clear-eyed historical timeline and discussion about local injustices. A second phase of intensive community engagement will prioritize reaching groups that have been historically underrepresented in public decision-making and historic preservation activities.
  • INVEST South/West is a collaborative initiative targeting commercial corridors within ten historically underserved South and West side areas of Chicago with grants, development projects, and public realm improvements to restore neighborhood vitality and provide a catalytic foundation for ongoing investment.  Historic structures were often identified by current residents as valued resources during community engagement forums and pro-formas for eight of the ten RFPs issued thus far call for adaptive re-use of historic buildings on project sites, including three long-vacant locally landmarked structures.
  • The Los Angeles Conservancy’s 2020 study, Preservation Positive Los Angeles, demonstrates positive connections between local historic districts, affordable housing, and high-density development. 
  • The REHABARAMA and STAR (Students Together Achieving Revitalization) programs in San Antonio, Texas utilize volunteers and volunteer contractors to arrest deterioration of historic housing stock while teaching traditional trades and skills.  Through service learning, students and volunteers assist homeowner with costly repairs.   With an average expenditure of $750 per house, they complete between $5k-15k in repairs. 
  • Faculty at the University of Texas School of Law and the University of Texas at Austin’s Community and Regional Planning Program were commissioned by the City of Austin to create The Uprooted Project, a study designed to help combat displacement in neighborhoods that are gentrifying. The study was completed in 2018, and university researchers continue to provide opinions or clarifications to the City about the ideas in the study to help inform city policy.
  • The National Trust released a report in 2020 entitled Preserving African American Places: Growing Preservation’s Potential as a Path for Equity. This report elevates emerging ideas, research, observations, case studies, and questions on the critically important issues of equitable development, social justice, and the practice of preservation. It explores the implications of place-based injustice and their impact on the preservation of African American cultural heritage, while identifying preservation-based strategies for equitable growth and development that respect the historical and present-day realities and conditions of African American neighborhoods.

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.

Join us for PastForward Online 2022, the historic preservation event of the year, November 1-4, 2022.

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