Historic preservation and not really understanding the difference between "economic development" and "building a local economy"
Most of the studies on the economic value of historic preservation find an incredibly positive return. For example, a few years ago, the Maryland State Heritage Areas Authority, in a report, found something like a $44 return on every state dollar invested in improvements in the various heritage areas across the state.
And compared to new construction, historic preservation is particularly good in terms of the economic return, as new construction generates about 50% of costs on labor and 50% on materials--and most of the materials come in from outside of the local economy, which historic preservation spends about 60% to 70% on labor, and 30% to 40% on materials, and it is more likely that materials can be produced locally (such as repairing historic windows off-site).
But this kind of understanding doesn't seem to percolate out to elected officials, who often see preservation as a legalistic endeavor slowing down new construction projects, not to mention that developers and materials producers (like a company like Andersen Windows, which spends millions of dollars on advertising) tend to have the ear of elected officials more than do historic preservation professionals and advocates.
So it isn't a surprise that the Obama Administration has recommended zeroing out the Preserve America and Save America's Treasures programs, which provide historic preservation based assistance to local communities, in the next year budget, despite the impact on jobs promotion, in an economy hurting for jobs. See "Federal historic-renovation program might lose all funding" from the Columbus Dispatch.
Part of the reason this doesn't surprise me (and I mentioned this as a possibility in a 2008 blog entry) is that these were key Bush Administration programs, so that even though the "bad Republicans" were doing the right thing in this instance, like many good programs (e.g., smart growth initiatives in Massachusetts under Gov. Romney, or smart growth initiatives in Maryland under Gov. Glendening), when the new administration comes in and they are from a different party, it doesn't matter if the program is good, it's automatically "bad" because it wasn't their idea.
Speaking though of the hullabaloo about jobs and how the road construction oriented programs of the Obama Administration haven't been that great in generating jobs nor in providing the kinds of transportation investments the county really needs, it is ironic that since the onset of this global recession, other countries have been putting their money into historic preservation reconstruction programs, something that the Obama Administration ought to be using as an example.
See these past entries from the PlaceEconomics blog by Donovan Rypkema, who is one of the country's leading experts on the economic value of preservation:
- Australian vs American Stimulus Plan
- Making Preservation Relevant for the Next 50 Years
- Rypkema Testimony at European Parliament Hearing
and listen to the song "Don't Tear it Down" by the Australian band Spy vs. Spy.