Forum Journal & Forum Focus

The Future of Preservation Movement 

03-12-2019 09:47

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, and the National Preservation Conference scheduled for October 16-20 in San Francisco will focus on the future of the historic preservation movement. As an introduction to the issues that will be presented and discussed in San Francisco, Historic Preservation Forum presents an article prepared by H. Grant Dehart, the director of the Maryland Environmental Trust, a consultant to the National Trust for the San Francisco conference, and a Trust advisor for the state of Maryland.

The forty-fifth National Preservation Conference will take place at a special time in a special place. The National Trust has joined with the National Park Service and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the National Park Service. Scheduled to take place between October 16 and 20 in San Francisco, the conference will provide the historic preservation movement with an opportunity to review past achievements, to explore current challenges, and to chart a course for the future.

San Francisco is a most appropriate location for such an event. The city established a national prototype for waterfront historic rehabilitation in the 1960s with Ghirardelli Square and The Cannery. In 1985 it protected its significant downtown architectural resources and conservation districts with a pioneering downtown plan and a zoning ordinance. The city continues to respond creatively to challenges to its architectural heritage that range from the rehabilitation of Coit Tower, to the adaptive use of the obsolete Rincon Annex Post Office and Federal Reserve Bank Buildings, to the recovery from the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

To assist in planning the conference, National Trust Vice President for Programs, Services, and Information Peter Brink and Director of Preservation Programs Elizabeth F. “Penny” Jones formed a steering committee representing the sponsoring agencies, issued a call for papers, and hired consultants. One of the consultants’ tasks was to identify key issues for the future of the preservation movement around which the conference presentations would be organized. This article is designed to provide an overview of the key issues facing the preservation movement during the next twenty-five years.



  • Enhancing Preservation as a Public Value

Historic, cultural, and archaeological resources are lost when those controlling a building or a parcel of land fail to value the historic resource as much as they value other attributes of the property. For example, an owner may not value the architectural characteristics of an older structure as much as the potential income from a larger structure that could be built on the same site in the future, and the local government may want to encourage higher-density new development on the site as a way of increasing tax revenue or creating jobs.

How can the preservation of historic, cultural, and landscape resources be fully integrated into the value system of the American public and become institutionalized in public policy? How can preservation values be given more weight on balance with other public values? How can preservation be viewed as compatible with such important community objectives as the provision of affordable housing and enhancement of tourism? When the general public values preservation highly, will public officials respond by enacting and enforcing stronger preservation laws? Public appreciation of historic preservation values has been a prerequisite for public policies aimed at protecting such historic resources as urban-design controls, historic-district ordinances, conservation-easement purchases, and comprehensive-planning and land-development regulations. In many of these communities preservation of historic and aesthetic values is seen as a means to achieve other values, not as a threat to them. Conversely, the failure of the public to see the relevance of historic preservation to contemporary life has resulted in many losses.

  • Integrating Historic Preservation with the Concept of Sustainable Development

How can the preservation community adapt an operational definition of sustainable development as it is now used in the environmental community to the field of historic preservation? Sustainable development in the context of the natural environment is development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”1 Richard Collins has suggested that “sustainability includes within its sphere concerns about living compatibly with nature, keeping faith with other generations, past and future, valuing cultural and community diversity, and demonstrating a concern for issues of social justice and fairness. Although many think of sustainable development as a concept based on a fear of overexploitation of natural resources, it has evolved into a broader philosophy of development that places a high premium on community values, cultural and neighborhood diversity, and a strong orientation towards stability rather than constant change.”2

The concept of sustainable development is not new, although the term is. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The earth belongs in usufruct to the living.” As Brown Morton explains, “[Usufruct means the right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of an estate or other thing belonging to another, without impairing the substance. We must come to understand that individual historic properties taken together constitute the cultural heritage of the nation, and form therefore, a common trust. Until the spirit of usufruct is second nature in the United States, the rule of the bulldozer will continue unabated.”3

The nexus between historic preservation and sustainable development might be found in emerging concepts of land-use ethics, including considerations of land as a public trust rather than as a commodity to be exchanged in the marketplace. It might also be linked to the growing economic value of cultural tourism to local communities, a sustainable community economic value that could be extinguished by maximizing rent from the use of private historic property in a way that would destroy its historic or tourism values. In rural areas, sustaining fanning as a viable economic use is essential for the preservation of farms for their aesthetic and cultural values. An understanding of the point that historic preservation is but one of many environmental concerns will help preservationists relate to the concept of sustainable development. As more people begin to focus on the consequences of unlimited exploitation of the earth’s natural resources and on the impact of materialism on impoverished Third-World populations, a narrow focus on historic preservation values may be seen as frivolous and thus ineffective. Can we demonstrate how saving historic structures and artifacts, reusing existing building space, preventing total exploitation of real estate, and preserving environmental qualities of existing communities as viable alternatives to suburban sprawl are in fact important to the sustenance of the environment?

  • Refining the Ethics of Stewardship of Historic Resources

Historic structures and landscapes have valued physical attributes as well as associational values. To maintain the value of these characteristics demands an attention to such matters as age, scale, materials, and settings. The loss of these attributes detracts from or destroys the authenticity of the resource. How can the preservation □ movement ensure that these valued characteristics are preserved when historic resources are recycled to new uses, rehabilitated, and expanded, or A when the physical contexts of A these resources are changed? Should architectural monuments be treated like fine antiques, their economic value enhanced when authenticity and original condition is preserved? The following are subissues related to stewardship:

Alterations and Design: Is there a need for a new Venice Charter to reaffirm or modify the standards for how historic structures should be altered or maintained? The recent dialogue over Montpelier’s restoration appears to raise anew the scrape/no-scrape debate led by John Ruskin and William Morris that was resolved in the Venice Charter, which provided the philosophy underlying The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.4 How will similar debates be resolved in the future? Should the organized preservation movement (e.g., the NPS, the NTHP, the AIA/CHR, the NCSPHO, the APT, the SAH, et al.) have a clear and explicit policy position on these issues and on the practice of facadism or partial building preservation? At what point is it necessary for the historic authenticity of a structure to be sacrificed in the name of public safety in order to meet fire, seismic, and other building codes? Are The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation sufficiently clear, and do they preserve the patina of age and other characteristics of authenticity of historic properties? At what point does narrow interpretation of The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards begin to restrict the number of rehabilitation projects undertaken and thus limit the overall benefits of economic reinvestment in historic buildings? For example, how many historic buildings are now rehabilitated with no adherence to the Standards—or demolished for new development—that might be rehabilitated with more flexible interpretation of the Standards?

The relationship between old buildings and designs for new additions or adjacent buildings will continue to be an issue for future preservationists. Should preservationists encourage the use of classical orders, details, and forms as a valid new stage of neoclassical urban design or discourage architecture that is not a product of its own time? In our current period of nostalgia for historic themes, what is meant by architecture that is a product of its own time? Architects and developers today reinvent the past with historic theme parks, faux historic urban villages, and Postmodern and contextual architecture, even where no original architecture is nearby to set the context. Is it a sign of victory or defeat for the preservation movement when developers adopt historical themes for new buildings, while continuing to demolish authentic historic buildings?

Maintenance: We are learning more today about how historic structures should be maintained in order to protect them from deterioration, neglect, or obsolescence. But an entire generation of knowledge about how buildings should be detailed to shed water appears to have been skipped in the education of modern architects, evidenced by the rapid deterioration of curtain-wall and other post-World War II buildings. How should scarce public financial resources be allocated for maintenance of historic buildings, and how much should be allocated for protection from demolition? For example, are federal and state funds for bricks-and-mortar rehabilitation of historic structures a good investment, compared with funds that will protect historic structures from demolition, say with new local landmark regulations, downzoning, or transferable development rights?

Responsibility: Who has the primary responsibility for stewardship of historic properties on privately owned land? If it is the owner’s, should there be a limit to the financial burden of demolition-by-neglect ordinances? How much money is it fair to ask institutions (religious, academic, nonprofit) to spend for maintaining historic properties of great value to the general public? At what point does control over religious institutions for historic preservation involve interference with the free exercise of religion, and at what point does favorable treatment of religious institutions under historic ordinances involve government unconstitutionally in the establishment of religion? In communities or neighborhoods suffering from disinvestment, outmigration, and economic decline, who is expected to pay for maintenance of deteriorating historic structures, especially if it costs more to meet historic standards than other forms of maintenance and rehabilitation? In such areas, what priority should be given to the future of the structures, compared to the uses (e.g., affordable housing) or the needs of the occupants of the structures?


  • Selecting the Best or Keeping All That We Value

Federal guidelines for planning what to preserve or list in the National Register of Historic Places start with defining historic contexts. The purpose of historic contexts is to provide a framework for evaluating groups of common or recurrent resources. In many states local governments have undertaken thematic, chronological, and geographically- based historic-context surveys and have successfully integrated the information into the local decision-making process. The development of historic contexts may assist with planning and other decision-making processes because the universe of resources is better understood and individual resources evaluated based on this understanding. However, some local historic preservation groups have found such context studies too detailed or too narrow to be useful for policy planning or zoning. They seek survey methodologies that clearly identify and comparatively rank structures, provide rationales for protection, are easily understood by elected officials, will sustain the survey results when legally challenged, and can be completed with reasonable time and expense when applied to large geographic areas.

Should preservationists try to save all sound buildings of historic value in an area, or all buildings of a particular style or era, or negotiate away structures of lesser value in favor of saving the most important examples of a historic context (e.g., the work of a particular architect, a building type, a structure associated with a particular person)? Architectural surveys that rank buildings by certain valuation criteria, rather than simply indicate their eligibility for the National Register (or local landmark status), while effective in planning, are criticized by some historians as jeopardizing the lower-rated structures. Preservationists will continue to be asked, “How much preservation is enough?” (usually accompanied by the claim, “We can’t save everything that’s old!”). Our attitudes toward what is worth preserving may broaden as the field becomes more diverse.

While a large portion of all National Register-listed properties enjoy no legal protection against demolition, and many equally important and eligible historic resources remain unlisted, can we afford to broaden the scope of what is valuable or eligible for listing in the National Register to include post-World War II buildings, cultural systems, and nonmaterial resources? According to Brown Morton, only a small fraction of resources of national, state, and local significance is listed in the National Register a quarter of a century after its inception.5 However, the requirements for documentation and listing have become difficult and expensive to meet. Has the National Register of Historic Places accomplished its original goal of becoming a comprehensive inventory of the American cultural heritage? Are the original goals of the National Register still valid? Should local and state surveys and designations of historic property always utilize the documentation standards of the National Register, thereby leaving large numbers of worthy places unrecognized and unprotected? If one purpose of the National Register is to help protect listed properties, should the National Park Service and the states make it easier for properties to be listed rather than more difficult? Are too many financial resources going toward surveys and documentation for the National Register, and too few for restoration of or legal protection of endangered sites?

  • Integrating Multiculturalism

Antoinette Lee has claimed that “Multiculturalism promises to both remake the future image of the country and rewrite the nation’s past. For the historic preservation movement, multiculturalism efforts must transcend the limitations of special initiatives and immerse itself in the mainstream of established programs.”6 By the year 2000 one third of the nation’s population will be made up of minorities, and by the end of the twenty-first century, more than half will be minorities, not equally distributed geographically. This trend will have profound effects on the cultural character of the nation, and on the historic preservation movement. To summarize Lee, there will be a greater focus on recent history in the kinds of historic properties the field will study, evaluate, register, and protect. New approaches to the allocation of historic preservation resources will be needed because these new populations will be concentrated in certain regions, and special-interest groups will emerge to assert their claims to a share of the pie. Will multiculturalism in historic preservation promote cultural separation or contribute to the unifying forces of an American culture? Changing cultural patterns will call for fewer art-oriented architectural historians and more social historians, anthropologists, and ethnographers. As Lee observes: “Historians of black and other ethnic historic sites criticized the architectural history and preservation professionals for their unwillingness to designate sites with little pure architectural integrity or with no physical remains whatsoever. They argue that such sites cannot be evaluated on the same basis as sites associated with the dominant culture.”7

There also may be shifts in historical documentation from major events in the lives of famous people to the ordinary affairs of common people, with a greater emphasis on intangible cultural resources and oral histories. As the popularity of the preservation movement continues to grow, more emphasis and resources may go toward solving latent problems, or toward minority-group perceptions of problems created by its success, such as gentrification of urban neighborhoods and excessive tourism impacts on residential communities. Will preservationists or public officials in the future be willing to place greater importance on vernacular architecture, the physical remains of early ethnic communities, or sites of important ethnic settlements where little or no physical remains are left?

Will the National Register criteria and documentation requirements change to allow greater emphasis on vernacular buildings, evidence of ordinary life patterns, or intangible records? Will the growing emphasis on multiculturalism tend to polarize the preservation community along special-interest or ethnic lines? How will preservationists make their movement more relevant to Americans of non-European cultures? If they fail to include minority representatives in its leadership and professional ranks, will the overall political and cultural influence of the movement wane and lose the ability to keep its share of resources?

  • The Greening of the Preservation Movement

Historic preservation began in America with saving public monuments (Independence Hall) and the homes of famous people (George Washington), but quickly developed a broader interest in preserving the countryside and the rural environment. This year is the centennial of America’s first land trust, The Trustees of Reservations, an anniversary that coincides with the twenty-fifth year of the Historic Preservation Act and an explosive growth in public interest in land conservation. The number of land trusts now exceeds 900, representing the fastest-growing segment of the environmental movement (approximately ten percent per year since 1985). But most of these trusts have different objectives and agendas from those of the traditional historic preservation nonprofit organizations. Their focus is on natural-resource or farmland protection rather than on protection of historic structures or sites. Was this divergence of two natural allies in the preservation movement a lost opportunity caused by the limited scope or emphasis of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the charter of the National Trust for Historic Preservation? The British National Trust, which was patterned after The Trustees of Reservations and which served as the model for our National Trust for Historic Preservation, is more involved in the protection of the English countryside because its origins lie in landownership and management. Only after the land program was well established did the organization expand its scope to include such historic properties as country houses. Also, the countryside in England—and in France—is of great importance to the culture and national identities of those countries, not to mention to their tourism industry. Can we ever expect the remaining American countryside to play the same role in our national patrimony as it has in European countries? Should the NHPA and the National Trust charters be changed to broaden their scopes to include the environment and the land? Unlike historic structures that can be rehabilitated to make a profit, there is little or no economic return on wetlands and other natural areas. What are the common areas of concern between historic preservationists in urban areas and those operating in rural areas? How can common issues or techniques (zoning for agricultural and sensitive natural areas, controls for landmarks and historic districts) be pursued in a way that will strengthen their effectiveness while broadening the constituencies of both fields? Should the National Trust play the same proactive role in preserving endangered historic property as The Nature Conservancy or the Trust for Public Land do in preserving endangered natural resources? Could comprehensive planning, growth management, multiculturalism, conservation advocacy, and reform in concepts of property rights be pursued jointly by the various segments of the preservation movement with more success than could be achieved individually?

  • Preserving Recent History

As the fifty-year threshold of significance under the age criterion of the National Register begins to encompass more structures and artifacts of the 1940s (and then the 1950s, 1960s, etc.) what will public attitudes be toward preserving these parts of our history? Since much of the preservation movement is based on preservation of architecture, particularly on the aesthetic qualities of earlier periods, will post-World War II architecture enjoy the same public support? The broad appeal of the historic preservation movement is in part due to a negative response to the design qualities of the Bauhaus movement and its offspring. Tom Wolfe8 and Prince Charles9 recognized a widespread antagonism toward contemporary architecture and urban redevelopment that may inhibit the preservation community’s full embrace of post-World War II architecture. Will protection programs for later periods of architecture be limited to representative samples of the major turning points or landmarks in contemporary architectural history (e.g., Lever House, Dulles Terminal, the first McDonald’s drive-in, etc.)? Is it possible to develop a set of principles or criteria that would guide surveys and evaluations of post-World War II structures, and how would these differ from existing criteria?



Achieving a proper balance between private property rights and public benefits in the use of private lands that contain historic and cultural resources is an issue at the heart of historic preservation planning, regulation, and control. “The American school [of property] that began with Alexander Hamilton drew the conclusion that land is a form of capital rather than a distinct factor in production.”10 Henry George’s concept of land was ecological in character: “Natural land ought everywhere to be regarded as a community rather than as a private resource.”11 Neither Hamilton’s nor George’s view of landownership exists in its purest form in America today, but somewhere between the two views is the legal basis for historic preservation planning12 and land-use regulation for aesthetics.13 In parts of America a new land ethic is evolving rapidly toward a concept of social responsibility and public benefit in the use of private land. The community’s constitutional power to tax, spend, and regulate property to prevent the loss of important resources is much broader than is often perceived by local authorities. The integrated use of taxing, spending, and regulating powers to provide for equitable treatment of significant resources is only in its infancy. Politically, however—except in a few cases—government programs for historic preservation lag far behind this public-benefit concept in land-use controls, and seldom do they approach legal limits on the public’s use of private property that might involve a taking without compensation. Major shifts in public values often occur in the context of countervailing forces. With the rapid growth in the last two decades of environmental regulations, growth-management laws, public land acquisition, and public support for controlling the negative impacts of development, new organizations have sprung up to protect private property rights from public land acquisition and from regulatory agencies, particularly those that might use eminent domain acquisition or downzoning. The following subissues relate to these competing forces for change:

Closing the Speculative Gap: Downzoning
How can we close the gap between existing land uses and speculative development rights on private lands containing natural and cultural resources? This gap is typically one of the primary reasons why smaller historic structures, which do not use all of their permitted zoning envelope, are demolished to make way for more floor space, higher rents, and higher returns on investments in land. Some cities (San Francisco, Charleston, Boston) are addressing this issue by downzoning height and floor-area limits for new buildings to reflect the size of existing older structures. Where necessary, downzoning is an important and justifiable tool in a community’s effort to remove economic pressure on historic and cultural properties. The fear that such actions are illegal or unfair demands that preservationists engage in public dialogue on this issue. Considerable effort will be expended by development interests to win the rhetorical battle about what is fair in such circumstances. What level of effort are the preservation and environmental communities prepared to devote to the battle about what is reasonable and fair in the public interest? When downzoning is accomplished, what vested rights do property owners enjoy if they have plans submitted or approved under the previous zoning rules, and when do these rights expire?

Shifting the Burden of Proof
How can the burden of proof that development on private property provides a public benefit to the community be shifted to the property owner, as a key part of the zoning approval process? The function of property rights is to provide the owner with use, privacy, and disposal; the undue concentration on the development value of property as the central component of property rights is misplaced. Neither existing law nor philosophical analysis supports such an imbalanced view. In many communities preservationists now bear the burden of proving that older buildings are important and need to be saved, in the context of preferred new development. In a few cities the government places priority on maintaining the existing qualities of the historic environment and places the burden of proof on the developer to show that a new development enhances the existing site and contributes to the beauty of the city as a whole, before an older building can be removed. Some communities are exploring the concept of existing-use zoning for agricultural lands and other natural areas (Oregon, Indiana), based on precedents in place in England under the Town and Country Planning Acts. A Canadian planner once described the difference in this concept from zoning in America: “Under the Town and Country Planning Acts, a property owner has no right to develop his property beyond its existing use unless he can show that it is in the public interest, and the government allows him to. In America, an owner has the right to do anything he wants to with his property, unless the government tells him he can’t or provides limits on its use.” (Joint APA/CAP Planning Conference, Vancouver, B.C., 1986).

Existing-use zoning is a regulatory prescription by which the lawful uses of each piece of land are the uses to which the parcel is already reasonably adapted.14 How can preservationists adapt the concept of existing use zoning to historic landscapes in rural areas and historic districts in urban areas to remove the burden that speculative zoning rights create?

Taking of Property Without Compensation
At what point does downzoning to protect historic structures or historic protection ordinances constitute a taking of private property without compensation to the landowner? Downzoning and other limitations on the development value of land can provoke challenges or suits on the grounds that these constitute a taking of private land for public use without compensation. Since the Grand Central case (Penn Central v. New York City15) there have been numerous cases that deal with that issue; but other than in cases in which a physical invasion has occurred, the U.S. Supreme Court has given government a wide margin of permissible actions without requiring compensation. In effect, regulations have been upheld unless there is virtually no reasonable economic use left for the property after regulation. However, political thresholds of fairness are usually reached long before a legal taking occurs. More recent U.S. Supreme

Court takings decisions have used both the concept of denial of all reasonable use or return and the concept of reasonable investment-backed expectations16 to define a taking. In the context of historic preservation, especially in larger urban areas, using reasonable use (i.e., the existing building space) and reasonable investment-backed expectations (which assumes a building several times the size of the existing building space) may result in two entirely different findings of a taking, depending on the timing of the investor’s decision to acquire a historic property and the difference in development potential effected by the new controls. If downzoning is to become a major tool of preservationists, or if new historic districts are to be created in high- density urban areas, the difference between these two concepts of a taking must be understood. Preservationists must work to act wisely as well as constitutionally. Efforts to soften the impact on individual owners, provide due process, and avoid successful challenges to responsible public controls require adequate planning, coordinated action, and skillful advocacy. How future Supreme Court decisions treat these distinctions in the takings concept could have a major impact on how successful preservationists will be in preserving older buildings in urban areas, either through planning or through more traditional landmark or historic district controls.



Most historic, cultural, and architectural resources are also real estate. So long as the preservation of these resources produces the highest return to private investors in this real estate (i.e., highest and best use), the historic resources will likely be preserved and maintained as valuable capital assets. Such is the case where historic structures and neighborhoods have become major tourist attractions or shopper destinations for retail uses. Large volumes of visitors to many historic areas— the Vieux Carre in New Orleans or Quincy Market in Boston, for example—lead many entrepreneurs to consider preservation as an economic alternative to redevelopment, or even to artificially re-create historic structures in new theme parks or to relocate historic structures in historic parks. However, whenever there is a market for alternative or more intensive uses of historic property, and when the zoning rules permit such uses, there will be a tension between the desires of property owners to maximize the return on their investment in real estate and the desires of preservationists to have these properties preserved for their public benefits, usually measured by values other than money. For example, as long as farmers continue to gain an adequate return on their equity and farm operations and have no economically viable options for the use of their land, rural open space will continue to be farmed. But when the market and local zoning permit alternative uses of this farmland—e.g., for suburban housing developments or strip commercial shopping centers—farmers will be tempted to cash in their equity in farming and either retire to urban centers or move farther out beyond the encroachment of urbanization.

Until the American public fully subscribes to the notion of land as a public resource as well as a private commodity, finding ways for historic structures and sites to pay for themselves financially will be an important part of the preservation community’s agenda. The following are related issues:

Competing with New Development
How can preservation and reuse of existing historic and cultural resources compete more effectively in the marketplace with new development (e.g., enhancing the prestige value of historic space, reducing economic incentives for new development on historic sites, and encouraging such financial incentives for rehabilitation as rehabilitation or property tax credits)?

Encouraging Nonprofit Developers
Since most nonprofit-owned historic resources are already tax exempt (income, property, estate taxes), what economic incentives will work for these properties (e.g., transferable development rights)?

Regulating for Preservation
What is the appropriate balance between economic incentives and regulatory controls to encourage preservation of historic resources on private property? Should this balance be different for nonprofit-owned structures? Will this balance be different in prosperous economic areas from those in declining economic areas?

Government Assistance
To what extent can government avoid the need for regulation to preserve historic structures by offering rehabilitation or property-tax incentives, building-code relief, or low-interest loans or grants? When historic resources fail to produce a viable return on private investment, or fail to compete with alternative uses, at what point should government acquire the properties, either for its own use or for resale with restrictions, as a preservation strategy?

Transferring Speculative Values
Many tools are available for transferring speculative land values or sharing equity affected by upzoning or downzoning (windfalls/wipe- outs), including transfers of development rights, incentive zoning, cluster development, impact fees, and exactions. Some of these tools are being used for historic preservation. Can preservation planners and land-use planners work more effectively together to develop other techniques for transferring equity values affected by land-use regulation? Should more research be funded in this area?

Foreign Ownership
Foreign capital has become a major source of real estate investment in the United States. Investors from some countries may have less of an appreciation for the historic, architectural, or cultural values of American architecture than Americans, while investors from other countries might have a higher level of appreciation. Many foreign investors will be unable to take advantage of federal rehabilitation tax credits or state and local economic incentives for rehabilitation. Will an increase in foreign ownership of historic structures increase pressures to demolish or alter these structures? Will the education of foreign real estate investors in American historic values become a challenge for preservationists in the future? Should foreign investors in historic resources be treated any differently than U.S. investors under preservation laws? Is there a need to protect the historic contents and artifacts from historic structures from exportation to foreign countries?



The planning, location, maintenance, and construction of the nation’s public infrastructure (roads; bridges; dams; water, sewer, and electrical conduits; airports, etc.) may have a profound effect on historic resource protection in the future, while many of these facilities themselves are or will become historic resources. Conflicts will develop between the need to maintain their utilitarian purposes and the need to protect their historic, cultural, or aesthetic significance. The planning and location of new highways, airports, and other public works may induce new growth and development in historic rural areas or cause the demolition of existing historic areas. Maintenance or replacement of rapidly deteriorating infrastructure is beginning to absorb a larger portion of the capital budget in many jurisdictions, leaving less money for historic preservation.

Transportation laws will be reauthorized within the next few years, opening up new opportunities for assessing the performance of transportation projects on historic resources in the past and potential collaborative planning with new transportation programs in the future. What role is the preservation community prepared to play in planning for infrastructure improvements in the future? Can a more comprehensive attitude toward preservation be extended to infrastructure planning to help shape the impacts and opportunities that large infrastructure budgets will have on historic resources in the future? How will we determine the appropriate balance between historic and cultural values and the utilitarian services of an infrastructure? How much public convenience, safety, and service are we willing to ask the public to forsake for preservation of architectural, archaeological, community, and natural resources, and how much extra are we willing to pay to protect nonutilitarian public values affected by infrastructure decisions? What kinds of public-review processes will be sufficient to handle the volume of infrastructure decisions that will need to be made in the future, and how should preservation values be added to these processes? If the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation is granted veto power over federally supported projects, how often and under what circumstances should it be used? What will constitute “no feasible or prudent alternative,” if Section 4(f) standards from the Department of Transportation Act are extended to Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act for federally supported infrastructure projects other than transportation?



Improved technology can exert a major impact on the future of historic preservation in several ways, including, among others, changes in settlement and commuting patterns resulting from enhanced electronic communication and transportation systems, improved information and data handling, including geographic information systems, new building analysis and materials replacement, and more sophisticated archaeological site analysis.

Where We Live and Work
Increased reliance on electronic communication media is leading to more decentralized work alternatives, including new cottage industries dependent on personal computers, electronic networks, and telefax machines. Will this trend lead to more deterioration and disinvestment in older urban centers?

How We Preserve

Will new technology improve our ability to forecast, avoid, and restore damage to historic resources caused by natural disasters? Will standardized computer data bases for historic structures and sites enable preservationists to conduct comprehensive surveys more efficiently and thus play a more proactive role in planning for the protection of these resources? Will new computer simulation and imaging techniques, coupling computers with television and film technology, enable citizens, historic review boards, and elected officials to visualize accurately the impacts of changes in the fabric of our cities and countryside? Will these new tools help preservationists win arguments for preserving existing qualities of our environment, or will they help developers obtain approvals for change? Will preservationists or governments have sufficient resources to gain equal access to the use of this new technology?

Geographic Information Analysis
Improved remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), and aerial photoimagery are expanding our ability to locate, interpret, and manage archaeological sites. Enhanced undersea photography and exploration techniques are doing the same for marine archaeological sites. How will we protect the confidentiality and prevent uncontrolled looting of newly discovered sites without controlling the use of this technology? Will we use this technology to monitor and protect the sites? Will remote sensing improvements be limited by concerns for privacy and property rights?

Building Materials and Methods
New materials technologies may make the rehabilitation of historic structures more feasible, less costly, and more accurate. As is the case in Europe, we may need to use more substitute building materials as the costs of labor increase and the supply of original materials is exhausted. Will this trend cause a reappraisal of the value of authenticity? Given technology’s ability to re-create entire parts of historic places, should we continue to place so high a premium on original fabric?



Should the American preservation movement be concerned with and involved in preservation throughout the world, or at least across our borders? While our first allegiance may be to our American heritage, how much can we insulate ourselves from major threats to the world’s historic and cultural resources (e.g., wars, economic exploitation, public works, cultural despots, abandonment, and global environmental change)? How much will we depend on the rest of the world for the resources, technology, values, and dedication for preserving our own American heritage? With our relative economic prosperity and technological advancement, how much assistance and financial help do we owe less-developed nations to preserve world heritage sites? How much can we gain from the value systems and ethics of older world cultures in terms of our own national patrimony and cultural appreciation? In 1965 a trip to eight European countries by the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Special Committee on Historic Preservation influenced the form of the recommendations in the book With Heritage So Rich. Does the preservation movement today need to reexamine preservation experiences in other parts of the world? Should this examination include other countries beyond Europe to reflect the cultures that will influence American society in the 1990s and the twenty-first century?



As preservationists, we know that our appreciation of our built environment and culture is influenced by academic experience. The loss of the physical record of our past raises the question: Are we and our culture products of our physical, historical, and aesthetic environments? Is our future behavior influenced by the loss of continuity with our past? Does our personal appreciation of the historic environment enhance our desire for formal academic training in history, culture, or architecture? At what point does heritage education begin to influence public policy to preserve the built environment? What is the primary goal of heritage education (knowledge, enlightenment, the transfer of values, the development of a political constituency)? Many nonprofit historic preservation organizations espouse heritage education as one of their primary goals, but without a clear understanding of what they seek to accomplish. For example, they may allocate much of their resources to tours or lectures for out-of-town tourists who cannot influence preservation policy in the nonprofit’s own city. With limited financial resources, what level of heritage education is most effective to encourage preservation as public policy: K-12, college, tourists, general public, planning officials, or elected decision makers? Is there a need for both long-term and short-term heritage education objectives? For example, unless public officials in some communities are educated about the values of historic preservation in the short term, there may be little left for the citizens to learn about in the future. How are the achievements of heritage education objectives to be measured? Is there a need for the historic preservation community to use television more aggressively and effectively given the influence of this medium as an educational tool?



“Preservationists in Charleston pushed the city to undertake its first official planning act and in the process made the idea of regulating land uses palatable to Charleston’s cautious political leadership.”17 The nation’s first historic district ordinance, the central purpose of the plan, was thus incorporated into an official city plan and zoning ordinance in 1931 as one of five use districts. However, the conventional model of a local historic preservation program has since evolved to encourage a separate landmarks or historic district ordinance, a separate commission, and review procedures for certificates of appropriateness that are separate from the planning and zoning process for new development. In communities throughout the nation where planning and zoning ordinances failed to give top priority to preservation values, this model often resulted in conflicts between policies encouraging large new development and those encouraging preservation of smaller historic resources, not infrequently for the same property. Such conflicts often are resolved in favor of new development. Several states have enacted growth- management or land-use laws setting state standards for protection of resources of statewide concern (including historic resources in seven states) and guiding new development toward existing developed areas. A few cities have enacted comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances that require the preservation of historic structures and new development that is compatible with older historic districts as an integral part of the planning code, rather than through separate landmarks ordinances. There is a growing recognition at all levels of government that long-range planning for historic preservation is needed and is more likely to succeed than eleventh-hour ad-hoc advocacy for saving individual buildings. The following subissues relate to this general trend:

Growth Management
How can preservationists and environmentalists ensure that historic preservation becomes a required element of all statewide land-use and growth-management plans and of all local comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances? Will historic preservation planning become the new paradigm for protection in the 1990s?

There is a new climate of political support for growth management in rapid-growth areas because of auto congestion, overcrowded schools, changing neighborhood character, water shortages, longer commuting distances, and loss of farmland and natural resources. This awareness of the need for management, often expressed in the form of ballot initiatives or development moratoria, can be expected to grow as the population continues to migrate to the coasts or increase locally. Can historic preservation be promoted as a central theme for managing growth, especially in controlling sprawl and keeping development in existing developed areas? Can the qualities of historic communities be preserved while managing growth, especially if most new development is to be directed to the older growth areas where historic resources are concentrated? How will disputes in this area of potential conflict between the historic preservation and environmental or farmland preservation interests be resolved?

Preservation as Urban Design Priority
Can historic preservation become a central urban design theme for downtown development throughout the nation, as it has become in Boston, Charleston, San Francisco, and Savannah? Will other cities protect historic resources and require all new development to conform to the historic character of existing areas? If historic preservation is given priority in public policy for downtowns, will it inhibit growth? Where will new development occur and at what cost to the marketability of new space, if it must avoid historic downtown sites? Will a preservation-first downtown development policy work only in cities in which tourism is a leading industry? Will cities save historic resources only if these resources generate a higher level of income than alternate forms of development, and only during periods of economic prosperity? Will a preservation strategy alone inhibit overdevelopment, excessive vacancy rates, and boom-and-bust cycles in the real estate market; or will annual limits on new development also be needed in some cities?

Alternatives to Historic District Regulation
In many cities attempts to establish additional historic districts have been hampered by a record of disputes between builders and property owners and the commission members or staff over matters of authenticity, compatibility, appropriateness, or taste. Weak criteria or political factors used for commission appointments, vague design standards, high costs of historically proper rehabilitation, or simple differences in taste have caused many people living in historic districts and many public officials to seek alternative forms of protection for historic areas. Conservation districts, which establish broad guidelines for uses, heights, maximum floor areas, building types and materials—but not strict standards for maintaining historical authenticity—have been established in San Francisco, Roanoke, Annapolis, and other cities. Conservation district zoning is also under study in Philadelphia, Raleigh, North Carolina, and elsewhere. In some existing conservation districts reviewers of alterations or new infill construction are the architectural or historical staff of planning departments or members of the planning and zoning boards, not the historic district commission. Is there a need for a reappraisal of the model historic district ordinance to encourage alternative forms of regulation for historic areas? Do all areas that might qualify for the National Register or local historic district status deserve the same detailed regulation and review of each alteration to historic buildings? Are all historic district commissions equally capable of judging new designs for infill development in historic districts and alterations of existing historic structures? How can the popular perception that many historic district commissions are merely acting as taste police be dispelled? How can communities ensure that people with adequate qualifications and sensitivity are appointed to historic district and landmarks commissions, not just people with political influence with the appointing authorities? Should historic district and landmark board members be trained in diplomacy and interpersonal relations in order to make them more sensitive to homeowners’ property rights, tastes, and emotions and to minimize public antagonism toward historic regulations?

Specialized Preservation Expertise
When historic preservation is merged with other public values in comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances, implementing officials with a broad range of values become involved in making preservation decisions, while those with a more narrow focus on preservation values serving on landmarks boards or historic district commissions may lose some authority. On the one hand, planning and zoning commissions often are called on to balance aesthetic or historic values with such things as cost, public safety, affordable housing, jobs, and tax revenues. On the other hand, when these planning officials are called on to decide the fate of historic resources as a matter of public policy, they often can be converted to embrace the values of historic preservation. This conversion can result in a broadening of the constituency of support for preservation and an integration of preservation values into the mainstream of public policy and regulatory decisions affecting all new development. The issue for the future is whether by integrating historic preservation into the mainstream of planning and zoning decisions at the state and local levels, there will be a proportional increase in the number of officials in favor of preserving our history, or whether there will be a net decrease in the number of knowledgeable and influential officials who have specialized expertise and interest in preservation. Are there ways to achieve the benefits of comprehensiveness while retaining the benefits of specialized expertise? Will an integrated approach to development and land-use policy result in fewer conflicts between regulations for new development and those for historic preservation?



The business and management of historic preservation programs are shared by a broad spectrum of government agencies, nonprofit and profit-making corporations, and citizens’ organizations at the local, state, regional, and national levels—all vying for limited shares of the available financial resources to accomplish their goals. There has been a proliferation of special-interest segments of the preservation movement over the past twenty-five years and a growth of government agencies to carry out various legal preservation responsibilities. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 was enacted in the context of a much less complex preservation movement; its evolution since then has raised a number of interesting issues that may not have been contemplated by its authors.

In today’s preservation movement each level of government and each level of the nonprofit sector has a tendency to perceive itself as the leader of the movement, treating the other levels as subordinate or in service to the main actors. Future preservationists may need to develop strategies and philosophies to address these turf rivalries that inhibit the most efficient use of limited preservation resources. The following subissues are related to this overall concern:

Subsidiarity: Should the preservation movement adopt the principle of subsidiarity, as used by the Catholic Church? According to Pope Pius XI, “It is an injustice, a grave evil and a disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies.”18 Bernard W. Dempsey writes: “Each higher society is subsidiary, that is, designed to be of help to the lesser societies beneath it. It is not the other way around: the persons who comprise the more fundamental societies are not means to serve the societies. Nor are the closely knit natural communities such as the municipality to be used as means by the larger but more remote organizations like the regional or provincial government (or ‘states’) or the national state.”19 This principle seems responsive to claims by many preservationists that, since most decisions affecting the use of real property occur at the local level and are controlled by local officials, most of the resources for solving preservation problems should be directed to the local level. However, this principle could be used to attack state land-use laws on the basis that all private property and zoning decisions are the exclusive province of local government.

Coordination: Can coordination and decision-making mechanisms be established for all levels of government and nonprofit sectors to allow each level to have a say in policy, services, and the allocation of resources? Can such mechanisms ensure that scarce resources will be distributed to the level of greatest need or to where they will have the most beneficial impact for historic preservation?

Collaboration: Should the historic preservation community join with other interest groups in seeking new federal legislation to support land use and growth management on a state or national scale, including management of historic and cultural resources, or should it act alone to achieve narrow-purpose preservation goals?

Goals and Resources
Should the preservation movement adopt, through multilevel consensus procedures, specific goals and objectives that can guide the delivery of services, resources, and legal action at all levels of government and the nonprofit sector? Would clearer national goals and objectives for preservation, coupled with stricter protection requirements for state and local grant recipients, guide the use of public funds to save more historic resources? Alternatively, should Congress continue to sprinkle the preservation field with funds to support the general purposes of the National Historic Preservation Act and let many flowers bloom? The following subissues apply:

Resources: Each year the preservation community argues before Congress and the administration that it needs more money for historic preservation by simply relating its request to prior-year appropriations. Scarce documentation is provided for what the prior year’s funds have accomplished since no measures of performance toward meeting national goals or objectives have been established. What is an appropriate share of the nation’s entire economic resources to support preservation of historic and cultural resources, and how should it be quantified and explained? How should this share be prioritized and distributed? What is the appropriate balance between federal requirements for the use of funds and state and local discretion in the use of federal funds? What proportion of federal funds ought to support local preservation efforts? What requirements for strengthening local planning and protection programs should be imposed, as a condition for receiving a higher proportion of federal funds (e.g., stronger Certified Local Government requirements)? Could more specific national goals, objectives, and performance measures help clarify the need for additional resources and help document how these funds are effectively used in preserving our heritage? How is the return on investment (i.e., performance) of federal or state preservation funds to be measured?

Scope and performance: Should the existing federal support system for historic preservation be modified to move beyond survey and National Register listing to require protection of historic, cultural, and landscape resources? Has a complete National Register become an end objective of the preservation movement or merely one means of protecting these resources? Can the protection of these resources be emphasized in the future without an ongoing effort to determine what is worth protecting? Are the existing federal funds for preservation being used as effectively (i.e., obtaining as much protection) as they should be, when compared with other federal incentive or regulatory programs for natural resources (e.g., coastal zone management, endangered species, wetlands, floodplains, water quality)? Can a conservation value-per-dollar ratio be developed to measure relative performance of the National Historic Preservation Act in its current form, when compared to other federal programs?

Alternative Strategies
Which of the following alternatives to the existing federal, state, and local partnership could achieve more protection for historic and cultural resources:

  • more direct federal regulatory authority to protect national landmarks (similar to that for endangered species or wetlands);
  • direct federal grants to local governments (e.g., enhancement grants);
  • direct federal bricks-and-mortar grants for specific types of historic resources (e.g., lighthouses) with easements required as a condition of the grants;
  • strengthened SHPOs with more decisionmaking authority delegated for federally mandated activities, together with adequate financial support;
  • a restructured federal, state, and local partnership with more emphasis on local and state protection (e.g., certified state programs requiring growth management) and less on surveys, National Register listing, 106 review, and tax-act certification;
  • stronger standards for CLG programs requiring more protection and preservation planning, with a larger share of funds reserved for high performance?

This article incorporates comments from members of the steering committee for the forty-fifth National Preservation Conference, including Peter Brink, Kathy Burns, Bob Bush, Richard Collins, Penny Jones, Antoinette Lee, Jerry Rogers, John Rogers, Pat Tiller, Jack Walter, and Elizabeth Waters. Valuable comments were also received from the February 1991 staff meeting of the National Trust in Washington, D. C., and from Constance Beaumont. Their contributions are greatly appreciated.


1 Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Evnironmenl, and a Sustainable Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), p. 76.

2 Richard Collins and Elizabeth Waters, Waters memorandum to steering committee, the forty-fifth National Preservation Conference, January 16,1991, and letter of January 28,1991, to Grant Dehart.

3 W. Brown Morton III, “What Do We Preserve and Why?” in The American Mosaic: Preserving A Nation's Heritage, edited by Robert E. Stipe and Antoinette J. Lee (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1989), p. 176.

4 Nora Richter Greer, “A Lively Dialogue Focuses On Montpelier’s Future,” Preservation Forum, Fall 1989.

5 W. Brown Morton, “The National Register of Historic Places: Mission Not Yet Accomplished,” abstract for the forty- fifth National Preservation Conference.

6 Antoinette Lee, “Multiculturalism in Historic Preservation,” abstract for the forty-fifth National Preservation Conference.

7 Antoinette Lee, “Discovering Old Cultures in the New World: The Role of Ethnicity,” The American Mosaic: Preserving a Nation’s Heritage, Ibid., pp. 179-206.

8 Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981).

9 Charles, Prince of Wales, A Vision of Britain: A Personal View of Architecture (London: Doubleday, 1989).

10 Daly and Cobb, Ibid., p. 110.

11 Henry George, Progress and Poverty (New York: 1879) as cited in Daly and Cobb, p. 256.

12 Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104(1978).

13 Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26,33 (1954).

14 John Humbach, “Law and a New Land Ethic,” Exchange: The Journal of the Land Trust Alliance, Fall 1990.

15 Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104(1978).

16 Christopher J. Duerksen and Richard J. Roddewig, Takings: Responding to the Takings Challenge, Planning Advisory Service Report Number 416, p. 14.

17 Christopher Silver, “Revitalizing the Urban South: Neighborhood Preservation and Planning Since the 1920s,” Journal of the American Planning Association, Winter 1991, pp. 69-84.

18 Daly and Cobb, Ibid., p. 17.

19 Ibid., p. 17.


Publication date: September/October 1991


Author(s):H. Grant Dehart

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