Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Bringing the Preservation Message to Broader Audiences 

12-09-2015 17:35

At the 2001 National Preservation Conference in Providence just a few weeks after the events of September 11, I asked you to join me in rededicating our best efforts to the preservation of the places that link us with our shared past and give us strength and unity as a nation. You’ve responded with an enthusiasm that is both gratifying and inspiring. Your commitment is reflected in that of your fellow citizens from coast to coast, who have joined together in a thousand different ways in an unprecedented effort to repair the physical and emotional damage inflicted in the September 11 attacks and demonstrate to the world that the American spirit endures.

I saw this spirit up close when I participated in a ceremony honoring the men and women who worked nonstop to restore the Pentagon. At the climax of the ceremony, Walker Lee Evey, manager of the renovation project, gestured to the beautifully restored facade that had been a fire-blackened ruin just a year before and said, “America, we give you back your Pentagon.”

It was a great moment. I wish you all could have been there. I believe you would have felt the same pride I felt. And I believe you would have shared my conviction that in the process of making the Pentagon whole again, in the ongoing effort to make the World Trade Center site whole again, and in facing the broader challenge of making a way for ourselves in the new and unsettled world into which we’ve been thrust, America is rediscovering itself.

This rediscovery has enormous implications for us as preservationists.

Americans are looking for the sense of continuity, stability, and confidence that comes from knowing who we are. This means that our job -- protecting the places that symbolize what America stands for -- is essential to the unity and well-being of the nation. Knowing this, and enthusiastically embracing the responsibility that it entails, I believe that we have an unprecedented opportunity to show that preservation is a vital, effective force for shaping, enriching, and celebrating the rich diversity of American life in every community and every household in the nation.

This opportunity will shape some very exciting new initiatives during the next few years. We’ll be sharing the message of preservation with audiences that are larger and more diverse than any we’ve ever addressed before. We’ll be reaching far beyond our traditional constituency of true believers. In short, we’ll be taking some dramatic steps to move preservation fully into the mainstream of American life.

Embracing Cultural Diversity

One way we plan to reach new audiences is by fully embracing diversity, in who we are and in everything that we do. For years now, we have been talking about diversity in the preservation movement and at the National Trust, and we’ve made some good progress, but we need to make more. We will never be effective as a movement until we represent America in all of its wonderful diversity. We have to look like America and we have to serve all of America. The National Trust has established a Diversity Council, led by our trustee from Atlanta, Mtamanika Youngblood. We will begin to implement some of the council’s recommendations early in 2003. Our commitment to diversity is not just to the faces around the table, but to all aspects of our work. There is nothing more important. The National Trust is committed to it, and we invite the entire preservation movement to join us in this commitment.

Historic Preservation and Affordable Housing

As preservationists, we need to confront a serious issue that affects almost every family in the nation. The United States is currently experiencing an alarming -- and largely silent -- crisis in housing. Sources representing all points on the political spectrum agree that despite all-time high levels of homeownership, America is not meeting the housing needs of far too many of its citizens.

Among poor households, the need for affordable rental housing exceeded the available supply by almost two million units in 1999. But the poor aren’t the only ones affected by the housing crisis. It’s generally accepted that “affordable” housing costs no more than 30 percent of a household’s income -- but in 1999, three and one-half million working families were paying at least 50 percent of their income for housing. Today almost four million adults are living with their parents, largely because rent levels are out of reach of their current incomes. Over the next ten years, about 20 million new jobs will be created in the United States. More than one third of these jobs will pay less than $20,000 per year. Where are these people going to live? Already, the people who provide essential services in many metropolitan areas -- teachers, policemen, firemen, laundry and restaurant workers -- can’t afford to live in the communities where they work.

In response to this crisis, our message is simple and straightforward: Historic preservation has an important role to play in putting affordable housing within reach of all Americans. Most cities have large numbers of vacant or abandoned housing units, most of them in older neighborhoods. These are assets going to waste. Renovating them would help address the housing crisis without sacrificing the historic character that makes older neighborhoods so appealing.

Even in smaller communities, underused upper floors in older commercial buildings represent an opportunity that is too often overlooked. These upper-floor spaces could be converted to housing that would take advantage of existing infrastructure and allow people to live close to where they work.

Many nonprofit organizations and for-profit developers are already doing innovative work in this area. It can happen all over the country -- but not unless we take steps to make it happen.

We’re already working with a team of developers, housing advocates, lenders, economists, and preservationists to develop an agenda that will create housing opportunities for all Americans in historic communities. This agenda will, among other things:

  • Make “one rule for housing” by creating parity between the Historic Rehab Tax Credit and the Low- Income Housing Tax Credit so that developers can pair the credits to create more affordable rental housing in historic neighborhoods;

  • Encourage homeownership in historic neighborhoods by offering incentives for developers or individual owners to rehab owner-occupied historic residential properties; and

  • Disseminate a toolkit of “best practices” that will encourage states and localities to adopt “smart” building codes, offer financial incentives for rehab, and take other steps to eliminate barriers to the creation of housing in historic buildings.

Over the years the National Trust has never shied away from tackling important issues. We’ve taken on sprawl, big-box retailers, historic neighborhood schools, and teardowns, to name just a few. I believe that the shortage of affordable workforce housing is one of the most important issues we’ve ever faced. If we hope to demonstrate convincingly that preservation is truly relevant to the daily lives of people at all levels of American society, this is an issue that we can’t walk away from.

Reaching New Audiences

You will soon be hearing the name of the National Trust, and the story of why preservation is important, on your radio and television. You’ll also be seeing these same messages in your newspapers and magazines. This new initiative is happening thanks to partnerships with two of the most highly respected names in communications.

The National Trust has formed a partnership with Home & Garden Television -- the cable TV network better known as HGTV -- to launch a major public-affairs campaign called “Restore America: A Salute to Preservation.” The Trust and HGTV have selected 12 sites across the country that are participating in our Save America’s Treasures program. Each is in need of restoration. They range from a 1925 theater in Oregon to the home of Mark Twain in Connecticut, from Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to an adobe building in Albuquerque. During the first year of the partnership, HGTV will contribute a minimum of $1 million to support the restoration of these 12 landmarks and the work of the Trust. Each site will be showcased for a month on Restore America, a highly successful weekly series now in its fourth season on HGTV. In addition, public-service announcements and commercials shown throughout the broadcast day will provide information on the campaign, the sites, and the National Trust. Viewers who want to know more will be directed to websites maintained by the National Trust and HGTV.

Let me give you some idea of what this means in terms of exposure. HGTV itself has almost 80 million subscribers. The website had two and onehalf million visitors in August. But the reach extends even farther: The E.W. Scripps Company, which owns HGTV, also owns 16 newspapers reaching more than a million subscribers, nine television stations reaching 10 percent of the U.S. population, and other cable TV networks that reach millions of homes nationwide. The “Restore America: A Salute to Preservation” campaign will be cross-marketed in all of these media venues, providing exposure to an audience in the scores of millions and giving the partnership a total value of almost $13 million in the first year alone.

In addition, working with the Ad Council and the creative minds at the Arnold Worldwide agency, we’ve created a radio, TV, and print message that will go out to 28,000 media editors and directors throughout the country. More than 30 state and local preservation organizations have signed up to partner with us to encourage local media to run the ads and to provide local contacts for people who respond to them. The Trust’s relatively modest investment of time and money will produce the equivalent of $32 million in donated advertising every year for three years.

This campaign obviously will encourage people to join the National Trust. But it’s designed to do much more than that. It’s designed to sell the message of preservation, to help people see that keeping our heritage alive is important to us and to the generations that will follow us. It’s designed to convince people that the loss of a familiar landmark represents the loss of a part of ourselves -- and, by extension, to lead them into personal involvement in preservation efforts in their own hometowns. It’s designed, in short, to get people off the couch and into the cause.

The National Trust isn’t an impersonal, monolithic institution that exists in some ivory tower. The National Trust is the members who support us, the hometown preservationists doing the real work of saving America’s heritage -- one building, one neighborhood, one community at a time.

We can’t do our job without the support and energy of lots of people -- but we can’t expect people to support us until they know who we are. These initiatives will tell our story. They’ll help people understand that historic places are part of the glue that holds us together as a nation. They’ll show how our efforts to preserve those places are making a real difference in the economic vitality and livability of America’s communities. Once people understand that what we’re doing is relevant to their lives, they’ll want to get involved -- not just through membership in the Trust but also by joining their own statewide and local preservation organizations. This is a rising tide that will lift all boats.

For more than a halfcentury, our job has been saving history. With these initiatives, I believe we’re making history too. By tackling the crisis in affordable workforce housing, by building an exciting partnership with HGTV, by launching a compelling national PSA campaign, we’re helping ensure a future for America’s past. We’re sending the world an important message. It is something we preservationists have always known -- but it’s worth looking at with fresh eyes. It’s good news for everyone: History is in our hands.

Publication Date: Winter 2003


Author(s):Richard Moe

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