President's Note: Getting Creative
I’m a big fan of local historic districts. Over the years, I and other members of the National Trust’s staff have worked closely with hundreds of communities across the country to help them craft local historic district ordinances and review procedures, as well as tools and incentives for property owners. These frameworks and strategies support districts that are deeply meaningful to their communities and help maintain the historic character of small towns, big-city neighborhoods, and rural areas across the country.
Historic districts support stability and economic vitality, giving local stakeholders the ability to control inappropriate development, prevent demolition, and even limit the use of cookie-cutter architectural design that has left so many places in America looking like any other place in America. At the same time, preservation is about managing change, not preventing it completely. Not every historic neighborhood or community needs to appear as though it has remained unchanged across the span of decades; in fact, in many thriving communities, the layers of change over time strengthen the fabric of our society.
In this issue of Preservation, we are featuring just such a historic district in Denver’s La Alma Lincoln Park neighborhood. As one of Denver’s first residential areas, it reflects decades of development and change, different types of architectural elements, and a number of different cultural traditions, most recently Latino/Chicano. Local leaders wanted to protect the essential character of their neighborhood, and to have tools to fight demolition and address displacement and gentrification. However, they also recognized that the character of their community did not reflect a single cohesive “integrity” of style or design that is often used as the basis for historic designation. Instead, as a living and breathing neighborhood, changes over time had sometimes become as significant as the original architecture.
The La Alma Lincoln Park Historic Cultural District is a model worth celebrating and sharing. With support from Historic Denver, the community worked closely with city officials to create custom district guidelines that will help to protect it, while allowing a greater degree of flexibility and diversity of design options. The result is that, by using a more creative approach, this special community now has gained the tools to maintain its unique character while also continuing to grow and change. Just as historic places evolve, so should our tools to preserve them.