Urban renewal and the loss of historic fabric in American cities were key motivators in the writing of the seminal report With Heritage So Rich as well as the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966. These challenges and related federal urban and community development policy, and the role in general of historic preservation in U.S. community revitalization, became a major focus of the ACHP’s work.
Since its inception, the ACHP has been dedicated to helping communities appreciate, understand, and effectively utilize their historic resources. The Department of Housing and Urban Development was one of the original federal members of the ACHP. As communities wax, wane, and rehabilitate, historic resources play a pivotal role in promoting community spirit and fostering a stable economic base for the future.
The ACHP formed an Urban Policy Group of members and staff, and produced a special report in 1979 on Preservation and Revitalization.
In order to assist the General Services Administration (GSA) in complying with the terms of the Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act of 1976, the ACHP prepared a report (1980) to GSA on historic resources in 29 cities in the southeast. GSA was preparing a Regional Planning Memorandum on each of these cities, in which Federal agencies “now located outside the central business district are assessed for future consolidation downtown, in accordance with President Carter’s EO 12072.”
In 1981, the ACHP’s Urban Policy Group prepared a report titled “Remember the Neighborhoods: Conserving Neighborhoods through Historic Preservation Techniques.” The ACHP looked at such tools as historic district ordinances, federal environmental laws, code enforcement, easements, revolving funds, property tax relief, federal tax incentives, direct federal assistance (grants) and indirect federal assistance (Surplus Property program, Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act), and various subsidies for rents and low-income housing. The work of private organizations, including national and local nonprofits, was also briefly examined.
Under the terms of such federally-authorized programs as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and the Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) program (instituted as part of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1980), local governments were responsible for addressing historic preservation and other environmental review requirements. ACHP staff worked closely with HUD and local CDBG and UDAG recipients, and developed model Programmatic Agreements to tailor the historic preservation review process to the local development and project approval process. Special procedures enshrined in regulations were issued by the ACHP for preservation review through the UDAG program in 1981.
The ACHP’s 1989 and 1992 annual reports included a focus on the conservation of historic towns and cities (based in part on international models for preserving historic city centers) as well as how protection and enhancement of key federal properties like historic post offices and courthouses could provide “touchstones” and economic drivers for local community development. The 1990 report concentrated on rural preservation and rural cultural landscapes, and included a series of case studies based on its Section 106 review experience.
These themes have been a continuing part of the ACHP’s work as it has looked at such issues as the place of military installations and base closure, closure and consolidation of U.S. Post Offices, and modifications and additions for U.S. courthouses and other federal office buildings.
The ACHP’s efforts and its discussions with GSA and others helped lead to issuance of Executive Order 13006 (1996), mandating that federal offices, where possible, be located in historic structures in the downtown portion of America’s cities. ACHP studies on urban revitalization and affordable housing policy have provided much needed guidance on how historic structures and districts could creatively serve the needs of cities’ most vulnerable populations. In 1995, an ACHP task force produced the first ACHP policy statement on Affordable Housing and Historic Preservation (updated and modified in 2006).
The ACHP’s Preserve America program was developed in 2002-2003 in cooperation with the White House and a number of federal agencies, most notably the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture. It was announced by First Lady Laura Bush in March 2003, the same day that President Bush issued Executive Order 13287, Preserve America. The purpose of the initiative was to highlight and recognize community efforts to preserve and enjoy cultural (and contributing natural) heritage. Program goals included expanding knowledge about the nation’s past, strengthening regional identities and local pride, increasing public participation in preservation, and supporting the economic vitality of communities. Conceived as a complement to such programs as the National Park Service’s Certified Local Government program and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street program, as of 2017 more than 900 communities, counties, large city neighborhoods, and Indian tribes have been recognized. Later additions to the program included matching grants for a variety of local planning, interpretation, promotional, and educational activities, recognition for volunteer efforts through Preserve America Steward designations, Presidential Awards, and more (also see related material under the topic of Heritage Tourism).
A major challenge to the American social and community fabric is the dramatic changes to the nation’s cities in the post-industrial economy. This is apparent in places like Detroit, Philadelphia, Youngstown, Ohio, and other places that have lost jobs, population, housing stock, and community investment. In 2011, the ACHP created a Rightsizing Task Force to look into issues of “rightsizing” in America’s legacy cities and its relationship to historic preservation. An extensive report on the subject was produced in 2014.
At the request of Congress, the ACHP also produced a second report in 2014 on preserving a key and vital part of the local fabric of communities large and small that was being lost– historic post offices.
Following up on the findings of the report, in 2016 the ACHP issued a policy statement on Historic Preservation and Community Revitalization that among other implementing principles included the following points that summarized the ACHP’s view of historic preservation and community revitalization:
• Historic preservation principles should guide the preservation and reuse of older community assets;
• Historic preservation should be incorporated in local planning efforts that focus on sustainability and smart growth;
• Historic preservation should be incorporated into plans prepared by local governments that receive financial and technical assistance to build resilient communities; and
• Effective citizen engagement that reflects the diversity of the community can assist in identifying historic properties and cultural resources that should be recommended for preservation.
For more details on these and other important principles outlined in the policy statement, refer to it and the ACHP’s report. (For more on other issues faced by communities in 21st century America, including deteriorating infrastructure, disinvestment, and climate change, see the section of this website on Future Directions.)