The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation is Reviving America's Communities

Historic preservation isn’t about casting buildings in amber; it’s about keeping old places alive, in active use, and relevant to the needs of communities today. As cities across America experience a remarkable renaissance, and young, diverse families increasingly choose to live, work, and play in historic neighborhoods, the promise and potential of using our older and historic buildings to revitalize our cities is stronger than ever.

In The Past and Future City, Stephanie Meeks, the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, describes in detail, and with unique empirical research, the many ways that saving and restoring historic fabric can help a city create thriving neighborhoods, good jobs, and a vibrant economy.

This urban resurgence, this ReUrbanism, is a national phenomenon, boosting cities from Cleveland to Buffalo and Portland to Pittsburgh. Experts offer a range of theories on what is driving the return to the city—from the impact of the recent housing crisis to a desire to be socially engaged, live near work, and reduce automobile use. But there’s also more to it. Time and again, when asked why they moved to the city, people talk about the desire to live somewhere distinctive, to be some place rather than no place. Often these distinguishing urban landmarks are exciting neighborhoods—Miami boasts its Art Deco district, New Orleans the French Quarter. Sometimes, as in the case of Baltimore’s historic rowhouses, the most distinguishing feature is the urban fabric itself.

“An impassioned and well-argued case for the economic, environmental, and social value of preservation and active reuse of the nation’s historic buildings.”

Publishers Weekly

And while many aspects of this urban resurgence invite celebration, the changes have also brought to the forefront issues of access, affordable housing, inequality, sustainability, and how we should commemorate difficult history. This book speaks directly to all these issues as well.

Overall, Meeks, and her coauthor, Kevin Murphy, explain the critical importance of preservation for all our communities, the ways the historic preservation field has evolved to embrace the challenges of the twenty-first century, and the innovative work being done in the preservation space now. The Past and Future City is for anyone who cares about saving cities, places, and America’s diverse stories in a way that will bring us together and help us better understand our past, present, and future.

Purchase the book today from Island Press. Use promo code 4PRESERVE to save 20%. All royalties from The Past and Future City will be donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Below, check out Stephanie Meeks' opening plenary from the 2016 PastForward Conference in Houston, where she shares the transformative power of historic preservation around the country. (Read her full remarks on Preservation Leadership Forum.)

“Stephanie Meeks explains how historic preservation is one of the most exciting aspects of revitalizing both large and small communities. Understanding, protecting, and enhancing our heritage makes these communities come alive. Ms. Meeks provides a guide to help enrich any community.”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Co-Chair of the Congressional Historic Preservation Caucus

Through Partners in Preservation: Main Streets, your votes will help unlock $2 million in preservation funding for historic Main Street districts across America.

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