Historic preservation is not just the protection of old buildings. It is the preservation of a community’s history – the ties that bind us together culturally and aesthetically. If we ignore our architectural history, abandon our remarkable downtowns and villages, or lose a rural viewshed, we diminish our legacy and may be missing, or destroying, economic opportunities. This is true in Vermont where our economic brand is closely tied to our historic landscape. Protecting, enhancing and promoting our historic buildings, views and culture involves a variety of strategies that can be used to not only preserve buildings, but provide housing options, optimize past investments and increase economic opportunities.
Well before the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, citizens around the nation worked to save historic buildings and landmarks in their communities. Historic preservationists were among the first to question the impacts of rapid development on our cities, towns and natural environment. Over the years, the concept of historic preservation has grown and expanded. While initial efforts focused on saving individual buildings from being torn down, today there is a realization that historic preservation activities affect, and are affected by, land use decisions.
When looking at our communities from a holistic land-use perspective, the goals of both smart growth and historic preservation clearly overlap. Donovan Rypkema, a consultant on historic preservation economics, has outlined twenty reasons why historic preservation is an important tool to implementing smart growth principles. The full twenty reasons can be found in the link below in the resources, but highlights include:
- Public Investment and Infrastructure: Generally, historic buildings are located where public infrastructure, like sewer and water, already exist. By building in suburban and rural areas, communities not only bear the cost of building new infrastructure and services, they ignore past investments.
- Economic Opportunities: Rehabilitating historic buildings to house people, businesses and shops enhances the local tax base and maximizes the use of existing infrastructure. Historic architecture, diverse neighborhoods and scenic vistas are just a few of the assets that a community can build upon for successful and long-term economic revitalization.
- Job Creation: As a general rule, new construction is 50 percent labor and 50 percent materials. Rehabilitation, on the other hand, is 60 to 70 percent labor. Generally, the labor comes from local community members, while the materials can come from out of state. The paychecks from these workers generally go towards local goods and services. Thus, there is a greater positive impact to the local economy with rehabilitation than with new construction.
- Environmental Protection: Preserving instead of demolishing our inventory of historic buildings reduces construction waste. No new land is consumed during rehabilitation.
Vermont has long understood the link between preservation and smart growth. Government agencies, non-profit organizations and businesses have been active in working to conserve our state’s history both in urban and rural settings. The Downtown Historic Tax Credit and designation programs are a result of these efforts. In 2007, Vermont was recognized for this hard work as one of three finalists for the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards in the Destination Award category for its work promoting and supporting downtown revitalization.
There are tools available for those communities interested in preserving their community’s character and building their historic resources. These include:
Related Case Studies
Vermont Land Use Planning Implementation Manual: Historic Preservation. This provides more detailed information on historic preservation and related tools.
Why Historic Preservation is Smart Growth by Donovan Rykema,a nationally known consultant on historic preservation economics.