This is an important topic and points to one of the fundamental principles that has long been followed in conservation of historic places-the doctrine that all the historical layers of a site should be respected, and that when one layer is proposed to be sacrificed in order to restore or reveal an earlier layer, the value of the layer lost must be of clearly minimal value compared to that of the layer to be restored. Judgment is required, often based on artistic or historical reasons.
Your question points out how assessments of the relative value of different sources of cultural significance can impact issues, such as class, race, religion, ethnicity, etc. Histories of exclusion or oppression may have contributed to a lack of awareness (if not outright intentional disregard) of the cultural value of a place to a non-privileged community. As historic preservation worldwide focuses more on "intangible heritage" and sites outside the category of conventional "historic monuments," questions like "Whose heritage are we preserving?" will continue to arise. If, as UNESCO says, "The heritage of each is the heritage of all," we need to focus on how that plays out in practice at actual sites. International experience may be a useful guide here. The Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter is a good reference.
One category of laws that have contributed to unjust conditions in the built environment is the typical suburban zoning law that often precludes accessory dwelling units or multiple-unit residential buildings in areas zoned for single-family houses. These can have the effect of excluding poorer, older, or younger potential residents and limiting the supply of affordable housing (to say nothing of the damaging environmental effects of sprawl.) Similarly, while historic districts can be excellent tools that benefit a wide variety of communities, in some cases they may have been used to exclude categories of people or accelerate displacement of current residents. These effects need not occur if the districts are properly nominated and regulated. Not surprisingly, intentions and consequences are rarely simple, but your question is one we all need to consider and talk about. I hope you'll pursue this.
2600 Virginia Avenue NW, Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20037
The Preservation Leadership Forum of the National Trust for Historic Preservation is a network of preservation leaders — professionals, students, volunteers, activists, experts — who share the latest ideas, information, and advice, and have access to in-depth preservation resources and training.
COLLABORATING PARTNERS National Trust Insurance Services National Trust Community Investment Corporation National Main Street Center
The National Trust's federal tax identification number is 53-0210807.