Twenty-Five Years of Historic Preservation

An excerpt from a speech from Don Rypkema:

“Twenty-five years ago the historic preservation movement was primarily concerned with house museums and saving national landmarks. Today historic preservationists deal daily with issues of community character, saving local landmarks, cultural tourism, economic development, promoting neighborhood schools. It is not that house museums and national landmarks have become less important, but that our vision and horizon have significantly expanded.

Twenty-five years ago downtown revitalization was synonymous with tearing down that old stuff to make room for the new. Today historic preservation is the common denominator in virtually every sustained success story in downtown revitalization. Twenty-five years ago the National Main Street Center was just being formed; today 1600 communities have their own Main Street Programs and “The Main Street Approach” has become part of the vernacular of economic development professionals throughout the country.

  • Twenty-five years ago historic preservation was seen by many as a frivolous extra, peripheral to a city’s prerequisites. Today historic preservation is seen as an irreplaceable variable in the quality of life criteria essential for sustainable prosperity and growth.
  • Twenty-five years ago historic preservation was seen as the opposite of economic development. Today historic preservation is a vital vehicle of economic development.
  • Twenty-five years ago business leaders like Chamber of Commerce executives and bankers would rarely be seen at a preservation meeting. Last fall I was in Sayre, Oklahoma – population 4100 – where the drive to establish a National Register District downtown is being led by the two bank presidents and the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Twenty-five years ago there were only a handful of statewide preservation organizations; today 47 states have them, 41 of which have staff. Twenty-five years ago there was no such thing as a Certified Local Government, today there are 1343 of them in addition to some 200 local preservation advocacy groups and 2300 historic district commissions.
  • Twenty-five years ago historic preservation was a movement that was largely obstructionist and reactive – standing in front of bulldozers to stop a demolition. Today, while preservationists still sometimes need to stand in front of the bulldozer, preservation is more often at the table from the beginning and is a respected part of the problem solving process, not a fringe advocacy group that can be marginalized at will.
  • Twenty-five years ago there was no such concept as Smart Growth. Today historic preservation is a vital strategy in this nationwide movement.”

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