Historic Preservation Tuesday: I don't understand the $1 million special program for Louisville, Kentucky
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has announced a special three-year program, utilizing Louisville, Kentucky as a test bed for new actions in historic preservation as a tool of urban revitalization. See "National Trust for Historic Preservation to study Louisville" and "Saving 'character-rich' areas part of $1M effort" from the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Other than for a boost of publicity for a "movement" that is now seen as a more legalistic and regulatory function, I don't understand the need for a test bed for new actions as there is plenty of knowledge we already have, knowledge that may not be getting applied, but it's there, especially in Louisville, which has a wide variety of historic preservation activities, a robust historic district program, one of the best state level Main Street commercial district revitalization programs, etc.
The things we know:
- preserving buildings is better than demolition
- left to their own devices ("without design review") many people--encouraged by Home Depot, Lowes, shelter magazine, and television programming--will modify their houses in aesthetically challenged ways
- historic district designation is a way to revalue residential properties and attract new residents
- Main Street commercial district revitalization as a program to improve commercial districts and develop new businesses
- adding housing to central business districts provides more customers for local businesses, increases tax revenues, and builds an advocacy contingent for community improvement
- revolving funds are a good method to fund historic preservation efforts, especially for individuals and especially in weak real estate markets, where the cost of rehabilitation to historic standards is not borne out in significantly higher real estate values
- federal, state and local preservation tax credits as a way to foster adaptive reuse of large buildings
- maintaining the architectural character of buildings is an economic strategy, albeit sometimes expensive (thus deserving of tax credits or other incentives)
- cultural-heritage tourism efforts as a way to promote tourism and local economic development
- and the related concepts of the "cultural landscape" and heritage areas to organize, manage, and promote heritage interpretation and tourism
- preservation organizations as a community building and organizing activity
- historic buildings, especially in weak real estate markets, comprise a large portion of the stock of affordable housing therefore historic preservation can be an affordable housing strategy
- maintaining older buildings is more sustainable for the most part economically and energy-wise compared to building new.
- mixing residential and certain types of commercial uses (office/retail, not usually industrial), having them in close proximity
- integrating urban design and placemaking elements--placemaking isn't exactly an element of historic preservation planning, but typically communities built before 1940 especially in cities and towns have historical urban design elements that support both historic preservation and placemaking
- promotion of sustainable transportation (walking, biking, transit) as a way to reduce dependence on auto-centric transportation
- culture-knowledge district creation (see the work of John Montgomery, work on knowledge clusters by EURICUR, and the World Bank publication, The Economics of Uniqueness: Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Heritage Assets for Sustainable Development.
National preservationists will spend $1 million over the next three years to study Louisville, devising plans to help preserve smaller buildings in "character-rich" areas and neighborhoods and promote healthy, urban living. The city will become a "living lab" for testing new ideas. ...
The five-year-old Green Lab, based in Seattle, also has studied Philadelphia and Baltimore, among other sites.. But this will be the first comprehensive study that will measure the impact of the lab team's efforts in one place, said Margaret O'Neal, the trust's senior manager for sustainable preservation.
The team will work on strengthening Kentucky's historic tax credit program for rehabilitation work, increasing the demand for reuse of older buildings among the public, enhancing energy efficiency in small businesses in historic buildings, measuring and mapping data about job creation and bolstering a Louisville preservation fund used to rehab and resell older buildings.
A main aim is to "paint preservation in a more positive, solutions-oriented light," O'Neal said.About 11 years ago, the NTHP developed a program called the "Preservation Development Initiative," focused on neighborhoods but modeled after the Main Street program, funded by the Knight Foundation and implemented in cities where Knight-Ridder Newspapers had operations. I guess it never moved out of the test phase, but I thought that some of the local efforts (such as in Miami, Duluth, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Macon) did some interesting work. Why the program wasn't maintained is a good question.
A new edition of Changing Places could probably do more than a lot of other things. And note that over the past couple years the NTHP has pretty much junked its publishing program, including its backlist of a great number of reports and manuals--now the items are really hard to find.