Forum Bulletin

Preservation Buoys Pueblo’s Diverse Historic Neighborhoods  

06-14-2012 00:00

The National Alliance of Preservation Commissions’ biennial meeting, Forum 2012, will be held in Norfolk, Va., July 18 – 22. The city provides a laboratory for preservation commission staff to explore a variety of preservation issues. In anticipation of the upcoming conference, NAPC members have agreed to provide some background articles on a few of the issues that will be explored in Norfolk. The first article focused on the effect of rising sea levels on historic resources. The article that follows highlights efforts by the Pueblo Historic Preservation Commission in Colorado to use historic context studies and surveys to engage and energize citizens in low-income, predominately Hispanic neighborhoods. 

Preservationist advocates have sometimes said that “preservation is hard enough when we are all rowing in the same direction.” In low-income communities it can feel like the boat is badly leaking, the oars are broken, half the crew is asleep, there’s no map, and the authorities don’t particularly care if it reaches any destination.  In Pueblo, Colo., however, the city’s planning department is having success in using preservation as a tool to engage and energize residents in the city’s low-income, predominately Hispanic neighborhoods.

Driving south on Interstate 25 in Colorado, past Colorado Springs, the terrain becomes more rugged, the sage and grasses give way to walking stick and yucca cacti surrounding deep arroyos. Pueblo, however, is decidedly working class and industrial. The city itself is a great cultural melting pot composed of descendants of Slavic, Italian, and Hispanic immigrants.

Population decline due to high unemployment (11 percent) and migration have left behind pockets of vacant commercial and residential properties. In spite of that, most neighborhoods still have a core of good historic housing, and citizens retain a positive attitude.

Neighborhood Heritage Enhancement Program

The city’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) began to notice a decline in the condition of the housing stock in several historic neighborhoods and was anxious to do something about it.  Working with the city planning department, HPC created the Neighborhood Heritage Enhancement (NHE) program in 2008 to rekindle pride in the city’s diverse neighborhoods. The city contracted with Historitecture, a Colorado-based architectural history consulting firm, to conduct historic context studies for five historic neighborhoods, as well as a Pueblo Modern citywide survey. These studies were supported by Certified Local Government grants and the Colorado State Historical Fund.

The studies made it possible for new and old residents alike to easily access the history and development of their neighborhood and to find good architectural guides for each area. The neighborhood studies are popular with the city council and were heavily covered by the mainstream and alternative media (both print and television). 

The studies also contained Neighborhood Preservation Plans to guide further citizen actions, which were then tied to other city initiatives. For example, information from the study was used for architectural walking and biking tours as part of Bike to Work Month and other health-related events. Historic preservation, in this instance, became part of a citizen fitness program.  

Building on the Content Studies

The city’s new Community Built Survey project aims to extend the impact of the studies to create community pride through preservation, whether or not the area ends up being designated as historic. These neighborhood building surveys are being carried out with the help of preservation planners, citizens, community leaders, and consultants. HPC hopes that by sharing the unique history of these small, historic neighborhoods, it will help stabilize the area.

The idea behind the Community Built Surveys has been to spark neighborhood pride, especially in low-income Latino communities, and to encourage residents to treat their neighborhood as if it was listed in the National Register. Some of those neighborhood residents now serve on the city council and help to get the preservation message across to other council members.

Neighborhood Planners

The City of Pueblo has also appointed a neighborhood redevelopment planner for each neighborhood to support redevelopment efforts and to forge new and stronger relationships with citizens. With both a preservation planner and a regular planner working closely with neighborhood leaders and residents, city leaders have a more nuanced way to listen and understand citizen needs.

Preservation is only one of many issues facing residents in low-income communities, but it can be one of the primary catalysts for civic action and engagement. Rarely do preservationists walk into a tabula rasa; they nearly always inherent an often complex set of conditions and uneven relationships between the local government and citizens, who have numerous issues other than preservation.

Pueblo’s approach is not the only answer, but city planners there have worked to identify paths to success for residents in diverse, low-income neighborhoods, and to show that preservation can lead redevelopment efforts instead of follow them.

#NAPC #ForumBulletin

Author(s):Wade Broadhead

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