Historic Preservation

Richard Layman of Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space, has a posting where the comments exchange got me to thinking about what Historic Preservationist people could do to improve. The topic was attracting younger volunteers but something in the comments about the problem with leadership, made me wonder if what would make the groups appeal to younger volunteers would also make them more attractive to the general public. First, need to state that I’m a bit distrustful of historic preservation groups and historic districting. Not for the sake of being contrarian, but because I see some HP and HD efforts counter to certain values I hold.
So here are some suggestions:

1. Get leadership that inspires and engages the general public. Not just wealthy donors, but the volunteers, all generations, homeowners, renters, regular Joes and such with a vision that speaks to them and their values.

2. Discernment and at least do a better job at publicizing it. Historic preservation groups come off to me like the girls who can’t say no. But I do realize that you don’t approve everything, and you don’t find every old building to be ‘historic’. If you publicized what isn’t historic a bit better that would calm my fears a bit. Not completely, but it builds confidence that you might be able to determine what is historic and what isn’t.

3. More honey and less vinegar. Take a cue from the environmental/ green movement. Knowing that some people will do wrong, trust that most people want to do right and encourage them and their efforts big and small.

4. Show more sensitivity to different income levels, abilities, and aspirations. Some people are DIY people, some people are on fixed incomes, some people need to age in place and some are really into being green and saving the environment. Tax breaks and low interest/subsidized loans are not the same as a grant (learned that in college I did). What options exist for green homeowners who want solar panels, green roofs, compact florescent bulbs in exterior light fixtures and maybe some other early adapter type green tech that isn’t really pretty?

5. Be positively proactive. In a neighborhood with townhouses where the average square footage ranges below 1,000 to 1,500, it is possible that families intent on remaining in the District might want to add space. If you’ve got architects and artists, maybe they can draw up a pattern book of acceptable additions for the various District building styles, for various needs (growing family, aging in place, etc) at various price points. Same for wheelchair ramps, not-so-steep stairs, and wider door entrances. And though it is something that can get dated quickly, provide local locations where items to purchase are and price ranges. Telling me not to use regular cement from Home Depot to patch up a brick wall is useless information. Telling me that I need type 3 cement and I can get it at Fragers on Capitol Hill for around X dollars, helpful. Maybe HP and HD groups do this, if they do publicize it more. Realize what peoples’ needs are and address them before the construction/ repairing begins.

These are just suggestions, dismiss at will.

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