This issue of the Forum Journal, published in partnership with CityLab, takes a deep dive into ReUrbanism—the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s commitment to pursuing reuse, reinvestment, and revitalization in cities. ReUrbanism holds that building reuse drives economic growth and shapes dense, walkable, thriving streets where vibrant communities can flourish.
We examine the promise of ReUrbanism from a variety of angles:
- Introduction: The American City in 2017 by David Dudley
- ReUrbanism: Learning from the Past to Create Better Cities for All by Jim Lindberg
- Making a Difference: Reshaping the Past, Present, and Future Toward Greater Equity by Justin Garrett Moore
- Managing, Not Stopping, Change by Adrian Scott Fine
- ReUrbanism for Suburbs by Kyle Shelton
- Roadmap to ReUrbanism: Identifying and Overcoming Barriers to Building Reuse by Margaret O’Neal
David Dudley, executive editor at CityLab, opens the issue by taking a broad look at today’s American city. He emphasizes the allure of authenticity—the “elusive realness” that is abundant in historic city centers—but goes on to note the accompanying challenges. The tensions between cities and suburbs, as well as within urban centers, erupt in debates about land use, zoning, and density. Preservation, Dudley concludes, “needs to be a tool for chipping away at … inequities.”
ReUrbanism can serve that end. At the National Trust, this initiative is driving research, on-the-ground projects, new policies and incentives, best practices, and advocacy campaigns—all in the interest of promoting healthier and more resilient cities. Expanding the urban reach of preservation can harness reuse to support vibrant, diverse, and equitable communities.
Indeed, equity is indispensable to the project of ReUrbanism. As stated among the 10 principles that guide the initiative, only cities that work for everyone can be successful, because everyone has stories and places that matter. To that end, the practitioners who plan, design, build—and preserve—our cities should be “redesigned.” Not only do they need the tools and training to work effectively with the communities they serve but they also must themselves reflect the economic and racial diversity of those communities. Shaping the built urban environment is a critical avenue for promoting social justice and equity—the cornerstones of thriving communities.
The principles of ReUrbanism also emphasize managing—rather than stopping—change. In cities across the country, reinvestment and construction are driving an accelerated rate of change that is displacing residents and communities or causing them to lose control of their environments. Managing change is about ensuring the equitable distribution of economic investment across communities and about balancing competing interests. Preservationists have an important role to play in allowing places to adapt while protecting and maintaining community character.
And while ReUrbanism is geared toward cities, its scope need not be that limited. As suburbs are urbanizing and creating their own versions of dense, dynamic cores, it is worth contemplating whether and how the values of ReUrbanism can be applied there. It may not be possible to measure suburbs using an urban yardstick—they are, for example, unlikely to match the density of city centers. But their commercial corridors may nonetheless benefit building reuse that promotes walkability and energizes diverse and vibrant communities.
But both cities and suburbs are likely to encounter some barriers to pursuing reuse. While many cities have made great strides toward incentivizing reuse, outdated zoning, rigid building codes, and other regulatory and financial barriers persist. Crafting model policies, along with strategies and best practices to promote their adoption, is a way forward for preservationists and our allies toward the ultimate goal of ReUrbanism: making adaptive reuse the default and demolition a last resort.
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