The answer to the preservation organization volunteer dilemma
Yesterday (at the National Trust conference in St. Paul, Minnesota) I sat in on a "partner organization" meeting. (This is for designated partner organizations affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. E.g., in DC the DC Preservation League is the designated group, the Citizens Planning Coalition is not.)
One of the big issues for all preservation organizations, not just those in big cities, is attracting younger members. Some of the groups, such as the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, have some interesting programs that involve work volunteering (helping people with special needs--seniors, low income, etc.--fix up their houses).
But it occurred to me that the answer is staring us in the face. I think the average volunteer for a Main Street program--at least for the urban programs that I have been involved with--is 20 years younger than those involved in more traditional historic preservation groups at the neighborhood or citywide level.
Part of this has to do with the fact that home ownership skews older, and homeowners are more likely to be concerned with preservation.
With a Main Street program, I find that the most active members tend to be younger, live within a couple blocks of the commercial district, and are newer to the neighborhood.
The motivation of Main Street volunteers is to help build the amenities and attractiveness of the commercial district so that it better meets their needs and desires (and make a community better for everyone). It's also a way to connect to the community and build relationships and understanding about the place.
So really it is about placebuilding and placemaking.
As long as historic preservation is mostly about pretty buildings, it's going to have a harder time resonating with new audiences.
To my way of thinking, preservation is about what I call the nexus of architecture, place, and (social, cultural, and economic) history. History is about people. Preservation too is about place, people, and buildings.
It's the perfect way to "reposition" historic preservation groups for younger audiences.