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Planning for Historic Preservation

Preservation Can Be Inspiring — This Month (and Every Month)

Editor's Note: Given the terrible events that occurred in Boston last month, we're pleased that PlannersWeb contributing writer Amy Facca chose to focus on a very positive story about the celebrations and events in store for Boston -- as part of National Historic Preservation Month.

May is National Historic Preservation Month, a time when people across America celebrate their history, culture, and special places. Sponsored annually by the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 1973, it is designed to raise awareness about the power historic preservation has to protect and enhance our historic communities.

The range of celebratory activities is extensive, but the most typical are special tours, community projects, public exhibitions and lectures, building craft demonstrations, awards ceremonies and, of course, lots of festive parties.

Boston's Quincy Market
Boston's many historic sites are indeed cause for celebration! photo by Wayne Senville

One of the most comprehensive and impressive celebrations I’ve ever heard of was launched on May 2nd in Boston, Massachusetts. Mayor Thomas M. Menino initiated the celebration, declaring that:

“Boston is a city where old and new live side by side. Historic preservation ignites economic development and enriches our neighborhoods. Our historic buildings not only give Boston its character but emphasize sustainability too.”

Feast of St. Joseph in Boston's North End
Historic neighborhoods, such as Boston's North End, are home to a wide range of celebrations and festivals. photo by Wayne Senville

Organized around the theme of “Sustaining Boston’s Past -- Old Places, New Ideas,” the Boston Landmarks Commission and more than thirty partner organizations have organized at least fifty public events highlighting the city’s history, architecture and historic neighborhoods. The celebration includes keynote events at the beginning and end of the month, one or more activities almost every day and a series of month-long and recurring events.

All Preservation Month activities are described in a well-organized, illustrated, 40-page Preservation Month Calendar, which can be printed or downloaded as a .pdf file from the City of Boston’s web site.

Boston’s enthusiastic observance of Preservation Month offers inspiration for communities of all sizes. It also underscores the fact that preservation is a collaborative undertaking that involves individuals as well as numerous public, private and not-for-profit organizations at the local, state, and national levels.

Preservation month is therefore a great time to learn more about, and get a better feeling for, historic preservation activities and the range of people and organizations they involve.

With this in mind, I’d like to suggest that planning commissioners join in the celebration by learning more about historic resources and historic preservation efforts in their communities and states. In addition to attending or participating in a local preservation month activity, here are a few more things you can do (homework alert!!!)

  • Participate in a local Historic Preservation Month activity.
  • Read up on your community’s history.
  • Talk to local preservationists and learn more about their ideas for your community.
  • Find out or review what properties or neighborhoods your community has listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Review the web pages of your state historic preservation organization, main street center, regional heritage area, and statewide not-for-profit historic preservation organization.
  • Take a tour of a rehabilitated building in your community such as a restored historic theater, historic courthouse or municipal building, or a historic school or commercial building converted to apartments or offices.
  • Take a walk around a nearby historic residential, shop or dine in a historic commercial district or tour a historic cemetery.
  • Take a field trip, perhaps with your fellow planning commissioners, to a nearby community with a strong historic preservation or main street program. If such a community doesn’t immediately come to mind, your statewide historic preservation organization or state historic preservation office should be able to point you in the right direction.
  • Visit the Preservation Month web pages of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Park Service, and National Register of Historic Places.
  • Read past Planning Commissioners Journal article focusing on historic preservation!

As part of your observance of Preservation Month, I recommend that you also think about the places within your own community that mean the most to you.

What are the “must see” or “must experience” places you take visitors from out of town?

What places do you think about when you’re away from home and tell other people about your home town?

How would your community change if these places were suddenly lost or modified beyond recognition?

Amy Facca is a historic preservation planner, architectural historian, and grant writer with a strong interested in cultural economic development. She has contributed several articles to the PlannersWeb and Planning Commissioners Journal.