June 1, 2021

National Impact Agenda for the Historic Preservation Movement

As our nation continues to grapple with significant challenges—from racial injustice to climate change, and pandemic recovery— the work of preservation must adapt and respond to ensure our movement remains a resilient, relevant force for positive change. The complexity and scale of these challenges require collaborative, coordinated action. In response to calls from the movement for change in practices and policy, the National Trust volunteered to convene conversations and collect ideas with our partners to create a National Impact Agenda. We hope that by amplifying our shared values and collective goals, the resulting “compass for change” will help guide and coordinate change across the entire movement over the next three to five years. With partners across the country and allies in adjacent fields, the National Trust plans to share the first iteration of the agenda at PastForward 2021 as part of this year’s theme Lead the Change.

A venn diagram (overlapping circles) of a series of values that reflect the diversity of the preservation movement.

Ongoing Research

We kicked off this effort during PastForward 2020, when the National Trust hosted a series of town halls regarding the future of the preservation movement in relation to urgent priorities across the field. Nearly 1,000 attendees participated in the three town halls focused on the issues of equitable development, climate change, and relevancy last fall. Following these powerful discussions, the National Trust continued to hold space for important conversations with groups and individuals from across the movement to elevate values, goals, and actions they would like to see in preservation over the next few years.

Since early this year, the National Trust has facilitated outreach to the movement to articulate our shared values for a more equitable preservation movement and describe actions we can take—individually and jointly—to deepen the impacts of our work. Our plan is to engage traditional and non-traditional organizations including nonprofits, public agencies, private entities, and others with a shared interest in key preservation-related issues. We anticipate our outreach list will grow.

Groups we have involved or are inviting to participate include: stewards of historic sites; grantees and funders; tribes and governmental agencies; Main Street managers; real estate developers; economic development groups; organizations representing Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander American heritage; LGBTQ advocates; lawyers; emerging professionals; preservation trades people; nonprofit preservation organizations; faculty members and students; cultural landscape conservationists; as well as, representatives of allied fields like climate, affordable housing, health, social justice, natural conservation, architecture, landscape design, city planning, smart growth, and archaeology. If you have suggestions or want to volunteer to help organize a focus group, please email NationalImpactAgenda@savingplaces.org.

To date, the National Trust has:

  • Published a special issue of Forum Journal to capture proceedings of PastForward 2020 as a resource for advocates and organizations to use at their board meetings, member events, and conferences.
  • Established a joint national steering committee to advise and assist with the 2021 PastForward Conference along with outreach for and the release of the National Impact Agenda.
  • Worked with other partners as well as allies in other fields to conduct extensive, inclusive outreach (see above). To date, we have hosted over twenty focus group discussions and have also held listening sessions at two national conferences, Main Street Now and National Preservation Partners Network Spring Meeting, where approximately 200 people contributed creative ideas about possible changes in the preservation movement’s existing practices, processes, and policies.
  • Launched a central digital presence on SavingPlaces.org.

Joint National Steering Committee Members

  • Jeffrey Anderson, Chair Executive Committee, Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios
  • Jackie Barton, Consultant, Cultural Heritage Partners and 2019 Annual Meeting Program Chair, AASLH
  • Vedet Coleman-Robinson, Executive Director, Association of African American Museums (AAAM)
  • Sam Collins, National Trust Advisor and Owner Stringfellow Orchards
  • Lisa Craig, Owner and Principal, Craig Consulting
  • Scott DeMartino, Partner, Denton and Board Chairman, DC Preservation League
  • Carl Elefante, FAIA, FAPT, LEED AP, 94th President, American Institute of Architects
  • Erik Hein, Executive Director, National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers
  • Cindy Heitzman, Executive Director, California Preservation Foundation and NPPN Education & Advocacy Committee member
  • Beth Henriques, Member, Chesterwood Advisory Council
  • Sojin Kim, Board Member/Curator, Asian & Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation/Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage
  • Elon Cook Lee, Director of Interpretation and Education, National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Jennifer Meisner, Planner, Planning Office, King County, Washington
  • Raina Regan, Director, Easement Program, National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Elizabeth Rosin, Owner, Rosin Preservation
  • Matt Schoen, recent graduate, University of Vermont Historic Preservation Program
  • Edward Torrez, National Trust Advisor, Member of Commission on Chicago Landmarks and Principal, Bauer Latoza Studio
  • Lindsey Wallace, Director of Strategic Projects and Design Services, National Main Street Center

Existing Research: Amplifying Ongoing Calls for Change

Many influential projects exploring contemporary issues and calls for change within the field are guiding the way. As part of this process, the National Trust is also surveying past reports, summaries of convenings, and publications to build on a wealth of insights the movement has generated in recent years.

Through additional engagement, the National Trust will seek to update and expand on these insights following the transformational year the nation has endured. Below are some of the projects from the last five years that have helped shape our collective understanding of what opportunities exist for the future of our movement.

Collective Actions from Existing Research

After surveying the recommendations from these seven resources, five common categories of actions emerged as focus areas the preservation movement has repeatedly deemed necessary to move the preservation field forward. Many of these categories are intertwined. We offer these broad categories as a guiding framework for the movement to continue identifying impactful actions to achieve shared priorities and goals.

Grow Capacity: The need to grow skills and capacity within the preservation movement is critical to achieving outcomes that advance core values like telling the full American story, creating livable and healthy communities, and protecting places for future generations. Growing capacity is intricately connected to preservation education, training methods, and continuing education resources. It is also connected to accessibility of these resources and opportunities. Preservationists have cited the need to increase the number of practitioners who have skills in cross-cultural competency, relationship building, equitable and authentic engagement practices to center communities in local preservation work. Expanding digital capacity and the adoption of new technologies shows great potential to engage younger people and new audiences in this work. The field also desires to grow and align capacity around important issues like social justice and equity, affordable housing, and climate justice, to better demonstrate the connection between preservation and these critical issues. What actions can individuals and organizations take to expand and cultivate essential capacities and skills in the field over the next three to five years?

Expand Outreach and Partnerships: The preservation movement recognizes that issues communities are facing today are wide-ranging, systemic, and represent challenges that preservation cannot and should not address alone. Many of the core values motivating the preservation field today including advancing racial and climate justice, promoting affordability and mitigating displacement, and supporting equitable revitalization require a broad mix of strategies and partnerships to address effectively. Preservationists have discussed for years the potential to achieve greater impact through partnership with allied fields and industries, from youth organizations to educating younger people about preservation issues, to technology companies, to organizations dedicated to climate change, affordable housing, and social justice. By collaborating with groups who have worked in these spaces for a long time we can achieve greater outcomes and ensure preservation’s relevancy. What actions can individuals and groups take to expand outreach and partnerships, and in what areas are they needed?

Change Practices and Policies: When polled in a recent survey, nearly 50% of respondents believed that at least some updating of preservation tools and practices are needed to meet the field’s established goals in contemporary contexts, while 37% indicated that a basic or thorough rethinking and rebuilding of preservation systems are necessary. Issues that arise frequently involve the need to protect “intangible” heritage, reduce barriers and promote practices to accelerate the designation and recognition of sites associated with underrepresented histories, and expand the preservation tool kit to support people, businesses, culture, and identity. Prominent voices have indicated that many of our existing tools have not been updated since the 1970s, and that state and local ordinances could be tailored to better adapt to the needs and priorities of local communities. What actions can individuals and organizations take to change current practice and policies over the next three to five years?

Conduct Research and Collect Data: The preservation field needs research and data to effectively advocate for preservation, dispel misconceptions about the field, and improve existing tools. The field is hungry for research and data that tells a more accurate story about the role that preservation plays in creating and maintaining healthy and livable communities. Each practice area within preservation has research goals that can help practitioners do their jobs in advocacy, organizational capacity building, and fundraising. The field needs more research and better data and metrics to understand the baseline status of long-sought after goals from which to benchmark progress against. What actions around research and data can organizations, institutions, networks, and other entities contribute to move the preservation field closer to its goals?

Increase Funding: Demonstrating preservation’s relevancy through research and data, changes in policy and practices, and capacity growth and partnerships directly impacts the field’s ability to secure sustainable funding sources to support the work of preservation. Collectively, these actions have the power to change perceptions and create more positive outcomes that impact broader and more diverse constituencies. What collective actions can individuals and organizations take to increase funding potential for the work of preservation and achieve shared goals?

Key Dates and Looking Ahead

June-October 2021: With partners and allies, the National Trust will continue targeted information sharing and outreach via online surveys, listening sessions, mini retreats, and interviews focusing on priority topics to drive traffic to the online hub. Based on feedback, we will continue to iterate on the draft National Impact Agenda framework. We hope through this engagement to identify case study organizations, programs, and projects that illustrate the values, goals, and actions as instructive examples.

November 2021: Convene the preservation community at PastForward 2021 to release the new, shared National Impact Agenda for a more inclusive, relevant, and effective preservation movement.

Get in Touch

Email: Share your ideas, comments or suggestions via email: nationalimpactagenda@savingplaces.org.

Online Survey: Want to share your ideas, but don't have a lot of time? Share your thoughts about the National Impact Agenda by taking this quick survey to help us prioritize actions that would be the most impactful.

Listening Sessions: We are hosting hour-long online meetings with various groups where the majority of the time is spent listening to feedback around specific questions regarding shared values, goals, and actions of the preservation movement. If you would like to participate, please email us at nationalimpactagenda@savingplaces.org.

Case Studies: If you know of an inspiring project that demonstrates your values in preservation, please share with us examples of programs and projects that we can amplify and elevate as case studies for the movement. The case studies will highlight best practices that are aligned with the actions identified in the National Impact Agenda. Please send your suggestions to nationalimpactagenda@savingplaces.org.

Forum Connect: For deeper engagement on potential goals and actions, join us this summer where over the course of five weeks, Forum Connect—our online community platform—will host a series of discussions for each of the proposed values. Full schedule will be shared on SavingPlaces.org.

Di Gao is the senior director of research and policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


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