April 1, 2014

President's Note: More Power to the People

  • By: Stephanie K. Meeks

We are always looking for new ways to engage more people in preservation,and 2013 was a groundbreaking year for taking preservation back to the streets. I say “back to” because the preservation movement started as a grassroots effort driven by concerned citizens who embraced America’s heritage in a direct and personally meaningful way.

Nowadays, I fear, preservation is seen as the exclusive business of historic preservation review boards and paid professionals, rather than something Americans can engage in directly.

But the National Trust is using many innovative techniques to help like-minded people connect to the places they love. The results have been both astounding and encouraging.

In Miami, a National Trust–generated citizen action campaign aimed at supporting restoration plans for Miami Marine Stadium resulted in more than 1,000 letters to the Miami City Commission -- a number the commissioners cited when giving the project their approval. Later, the stadium came alive on Instagram; local photo enthusiasts arranged an “Instameet” using the social media app, sharing more than 600 stadium images that reached an estimated audience of 675,000 people.

This past fall in Houston, we deployed a “Dome Mobile” at farmers markets and tailgate parties to bring the Astrodome -- a building that hasn’t seen consistent public use for about a decade -- back to life in a compelling way. We outfitted a 26-foot truck with AstroTurf, real stadium seats, and a signature wall where people could share memories and voice support for transforming the world’s first indoor, domed stadium into the world’s largest special events space. All told, we engaged nearly 90,000 people. To quote one visitor: “It’s like you picked the Dome up and brought it to us!”

As part of our Texas Courthouses campaign, the National Trust is working with the Texas Historical Commission to raise awareness of state funding for courthouse restorations. We gathered 1,300 signatures on a petition encouraging legislators to pass the funding bill. A local volunteer working to restore the 1884 courthouse in Lampasas County said, “Other than raising my family, that was the most important experience of my entire life.”

It’s heartening to see what’s possible when we open the floodgates and use new technologies to connect with more people, welcoming their ideas and making saving places everyone’s business. Please join us in one of our campaigns. You can find out where and how at SavingPlaces.org.

Stephanie K. Meeks is president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She is the author of "The Past and Future City", available now from Island Press.


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