Preservation Magazine, Summer 2017

President's Note: The Birth of ReUrbanism

National Trust for Historic Preservation President and CEO, Stephanie Meeks

In my travels over the past few months, from the heart of Louisville, Kentucky, to Miami’s Little Havana, to other iconic American neighborhoods, I’ve gotten to see and experience firsthand all the many ways historic preservation is enhancing our cities. (For more details, please see my note in the Fall 2016 issue of Preservation.) By spurring economic growth, encouraging walkable neighborhoods, promoting environmental sustainability, and helping cities address pressing problems such as a shortage of affordable housing, older buildings are proving time and again to be remarkable tools for urban regeneration.

Now, to deepen our own commitment to advancing these benefits for more Americans, the National Trust has embarked on an exciting initiative we are calling ReUrbanism. Building on decades of experience with historic tax credits, preservation advocacy, and reinvigorating Main Streets, ReUrbanism seeks to ensure that adaptive building reuse becomes the default for cities, that demolition becomes the option of last resort, and that all we’ve learned from the past is helping to shape the cities of the future.

In only a few short months, we have hit the ground running. Guided by Ten Principles of ReUrbanism, we are now working with municipal leaders to spur building reuse in cities across America, and helping iconic neighborhoods in cities such as Philadelphia and Detroit to take full advantage of their remarkable historic assets.

We also launched our new Atlas of ReUrbanism, a comprehensive 50-city study of the American urban landscape. After looking at the age, diversity, and size of all buildings in these 50 cities, our Atlas research has found that neighborhoods with a mix of old and new buildings consistently perform better along a host of social, economic, and environmental metrics than do areas without older buildings. In fact, across all 50 cities in the Atlas, these mixed blocks have 33 percent more jobs in new businesses, 46 percent more jobs in small businesses, and 60 percent more women- and minority-owned businesses. They are also denser and provide 28 percent more units of affordable rental housing—proving once again that preservation can and should be an important part of addressing the rising cost of living in cities.

Through all of this ReUrbanism work, our goal is to make clear to the decision makers in cities that conserving and reusing older buildings addresses people’s contemporary needs; helps make neighborhoods more diverse, authentic, and vibrant; and creates the possibility for a more sustainable and equitable future. I encourage you to peruse our Atlas maps and ReUrbanism principles online, and hope they can help you to make an even stronger case for preservation in your hometown.

Stephanie K. Meeks was the president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation from 2010-2018. She is the author of "The Past and Future City."

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