It is often said that all preservation, like all politics, is local. Sometimes, however, a regional perspective--by inspiring initiatives that are closer to the ground than those led by state government but more inclusive than those of individual communities -- offers the most sensible and effective means of preserving resources that transcend or ignore narrow political boundaries. Such a regional approach offers enormous benefits to preservation, not only in the number of historic sites protected but also in the breadth of the consensus it builds for a strong stewardship ethic.
The power of an integrated regional approach to preserving historic places and telling the story of a way of life has led to the success and growth of heritage areas across the country. While heritage areas are only one of many different kinds of regional planning partnerships, they offer a uniquely holistic approach to preservation that seeks to encompass not just the buildings that identify and enrich a place but also the living culture of the people who call the place home. Embodying vision that extends far beyond a single structure or Main Street, heritage areas celebrate everything from music to crafts, from regional cooking to industry, from historic architecture to scenic trails, from transportation to agriculture. They provide a venue in which preservationists can work on conserving the big picture, the distinctive living landscapes of our nation.
This issue of Forum Journal focuses on heritage areas--the history, principles, practices, and future of the field. The articles, written by some of the leaders in this new area of preservation, highlight community conservation and development efforts in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, land conservation partnerships in the Quinebaug and Shetucket watershed in Connecticut and Massachusetts, heritage tourism development in South Carolina, and place-based educational partnerships in the Essex National Heritage Area in Massachusetts. They also offer a critical look at the history of the heritage-area idea, pointing out that its evolution has been influenced and enriched by both the historic preservation and environmental movements. Finally, they illustrate the value of partnerships among the varied groups and individuals who seek to preserve nation’s diverse cultural landscapes.
Congress has designated national heritage areas thus and a dozen others are currently seeking official recognition. States are also adopting heritage-area collaborative strategy: States as geographically diverse as Louisiana, Maryland, and Utah have recently launched their own heritage-area programs. With heritage areas being proposed almost every week and legislative interest in a national program at an all-time high, issue of Forum Journal is particularly timely.
Our thanks to Brenda Barrett, the National Park Service’s national coordinator for heritage areas, for her enthusiasm helping us produce this issue.
Publication Date: Summer 2003