Goal 3: Modernized, Expanded Tools

Update and add new preservation tools and practices so more people can recognize, interpret, protect, and activate a larger and more diverse set of historic places and landscapes.

New preservation policies and practices can broaden the impact of our work in communities across the country. Much of our current system was put in place over 50 years ago. Today we are hearing calls for change to make this system more inclusive, accessible, and responsive to the priorities of our time.

More flexible approaches are needed to tell the full story of our shared history through historic places and to respond to issues such as social and environmental justice, climate change, and affordability.

Changes are already underway. Preservationists are developing innovative ways to bring the benefits of preservation to more people and more communities, but we can accelerate this impact through the creation of new and better tools through coordination and collaboration.

Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas, is a community platform to impact the urban landscape through art and cultural identity.

photo by: Project Row Houses

Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas, is a community platform to impact the urban landscape through art and cultural identity.

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.

  • Make preservation guidelines more flexible to help achieve a balance between preservation and continued use. (Source: Main Street network focus group)
  • Advocate for changes to the federal Historic Tax Credit so it can be used for smaller projects. (Source: National Preservation Partners network member focus group)
  • Classify natural resources as a heritage, not just buildings. Natural resources represent very different narratives. The foundations need to be there for the actual native stories. (Source: Pacific Islander heritage professionals focus group)
  • Secure additional funding for surveys and documentation to help lower barriers to listing diverse sites on the National Register. (Source: State Historic Preservation Offices focus group)
  • Include oral histories (particularly amongst immigrant communities) to inform preservation studies and historic designations. (Source: Emerging professionals focus group)
  • Include local community members and stakeholders as equal “co-creators” with preservation experts to ensure that the community helps decide what stories to tell. (Source: Historic sites focus group)
  • Grants should encourage or require collaboration. For example, a grant for a traveling exhibit that would travel to multiple communities and be supported by multiple organizations could be given priority for funding. We need to incentivize collaboration. Not just among nonprofits, but private entities as well. (Source: Asian American heritage professionals focus group)
  • Regarding tools, ones that are important to us (like NAGPRA) are often left out of advocacy efforts. (Pacific Islander heritage professionals focus group)
  • Increase advocacy for National Park Service Underrepresented Communities grants and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which are very important to [AAPI communities]. (Source: Asian American heritage professionals focus group)
  • The preservation community has been looking to make changes to the Historic Tax Credit program and we are on the brink of transformational change. The authorization of the Historic Preservation Fund expires at the end of 2023. Help shape what this next preservation campaign will look like. (Source: PastForward listening session)
  • Blend deconstruction practice with existing preservation practice and tools. Establish new partnershipsd with waste management and better integrate work with sustainability efforts. (Source: PastForward listening session)
  • Would be value in working with State Historic Preservation Offices to make documentation easier and have community members participate in documentation. (Source: PastForward listening session)

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.

  • In 2020, the San Francisco Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Commission passed a far-reaching Resolution No. 1127 Centering Preservation Planning on Racial and Social Equity that has been a driving force in the Planning Department’s work.
  • The National Park Service has created grant programs for historic sites to address equity issues including the Underrepresented Community Grant Program and the History of Equal Rights (HER) grants.
  • History Colorado revised their grant application to incentivize and prioritize projects that are created, with, by, and for BIPOC communities. Projects serving these communities can benefit from new, lower cash-match requirements and guidelines are provided in both English and Spanish. These changes have already resulted in a substantial increase in grants related to and benefitting BIPOC communities in Colorado.
  • The Kali’uokapa’akai Collective is working to elevate and empower the voice of Native Hawaiians and community voices in decision making regarding the stewardship of Hawai’i’s sacred ancestral heritage, and to expand cultural resources management work beyond archaeology to include intangible aspects of heritage.
  • San Francisco’s successful Legacy Business Registry programs to celebrate and support longtime businesses that are the anchors of their communities has inspired other legacy business programs in cities of all sizes from San Antonio, Texas to Missoula, Montana.  The programs provide technical support and important promotion opportunities for these community assets.
  • National programs like HistoriCorps, HOPE Crew and Preservation Maryland’s Campaign for Historic Trades are finding new ways to provide trades training opportunities to help address the lack of skilled preservation tradespeople.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst to accelerate the creation of virtual experiences, including the Tadaima! virtual community pilgrimage to memorialize the history of Japanese American incarceration during World War II. Working with more than 70 partners and led by the Japanese American Memorial Pilgrimages (JAMP) and the National Park Service, the nine week-long virtual pilgrimage offered online exhibits, workshops, performances, lectures, small group discussions, genealogy sessions, videos and more to help create a sense of connection for the Japanese American community and their allies.
  • Since being created in November of 2017, the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has raised more than $50 million and has supported more than 200 African American heritage projects across the country. Fundraising efforts have ensured that this program will be endowed for perpetuity.
  • Los Angeles City Planning completed its citywide historic resources survey, SurveyLA, as the first all-digital citywide survey using current technology and survey practices. The survey was also structured around a citywide historic context statement that developed over 200 themes and sub-themes, including 880,000 parcels in almost 500 square miles.
  • Preservation Trust of Vermont uses the community supported enterprise model to support community-based organizations purchase real estate and equipment to meet a desired community need in a particular location. With community ownership, the space can be affordably leased to an operator offering the desired services or products to contribute to quality of life, a sense of place and local economic vitality.
  • San Francisco and San Diego have created citywide LGBTQ Contexts; Denver has completed a Latino/Chicano Historic Context Study.  Context studies like these have been helpful in setting the background for future designations and in guiding planning.
  • The Intrepid Museum in New York is leading a working group of historic sites, disability advocates and advisors in collaboration with the NYU Ability Project on the Sensory Tools Project. Through this collaboration, participating sites will design inclusive, multisensory experiences that respond to a range of physical and cognitive abilities and disabilities. This includes digital “Bring Your Own Accessible Device” mobile guides, as well as physical interventions to expand sensory interpretation opportunities. A free digital toolkit will be produced to help other sites implement these inclusive tools.
  • Historic Denver and the City of Denver worked to designate portions of the La Alma Lincoln Park neighborhood as a local cultural historic district. This district dates to the 1870s and produced many leaders during Denver’s Chicano movement from 1960s-80s, is the first to use new cultural significance criteria adopted in 2019 and custom design guidelines to enhance flexibility for owners and recognize that building modifications are part of the story.
  • Preservation programs are using technology to streamline processes. For example, most of the big city preservation programs have shifted to digital submissions and e-filing for historic preservation permit approvals. 
  • The National Park Service creates theme studies as an effective way to nominate properties associated with a specific area or theme of American history and offer critical context to evaluate broader national significance. The Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Theme Studies offer important research that foregrounds “place” in the interpretation of history of AAPI communities to help those seeking historic designation for a broad range of heritage assets linked to Asian American and Pacific Islander stories and experiences. The National Park Service continues to add theme studies for other thematic histories currently underrepresented in historic preservation have been in development for decades.
  • The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has released several reports to make it easier for tribes to work with current preservation programs and processes. These reports include Traditional Knowledge and the Section 106 Process: Information for Federal Agencies and Other Participants; Improving Tribal Consultation in Infrastructure Projects and Early Coordination with Indian Tribes During Pre-Application Processes: A Handbook in 2019.
  • San Francisco and San Diego have created citywide LGBTQ Context studies; Denver has completed a Latino/Chicano Historic Context Study.
  • The cities of Dallas and Houston have created Conservation Districts as a more flexible alternative to traditional historic districts.
  • The Cincinnati Preservation Association launched a new Sites of Black History initiative to preserve sites of Black history which will include research, interviews, designations, historic markers, events and information available online.
  • The Oral History Association offers resources including best practices and guidelines for effective oral history interviews. Resources like this are valuable to preservation as more of the field seeks to incorporate oral history records in site documentation and interpretation.
  • The National Trust for Historic Preservation worked with a graduate researcher to develop a StoryMaps project, Preserving Chinatowns in the United States, that explores the history and existing conditions of Chinatowns across the country to understand the extent that Chinatowns have been documented, identified, protected, and interpreted. This project seeks to elevate these important immigrant enclaves that tell the story of Chinese Americans and other immigrants across the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora.

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.

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