Action Steps for Preserving Industrial Heritage


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Industrial heritage sites have not attracted a great deal of attention from national groups or state-level preservation organization, for many reasons. The sites tend to be big, dirty, and complex, with potentially nightmarish maintenance costs and the specter of toxic residues or other hidden dangers. The sites can be hard to understand: What is it that makes them important? How did they work? How might they be returned to productive use? They are beyond the scope of traditional preservation training and traditional interests in domestic and/or public structures, and often don’t attract a ready constituency of supporters. Sometimes when the factory closes and the jobs go away, these sites become the focus of negative emotions, not positive ones. Overcoming these factors can be a daunting task, but it is a worthwhile effort that should be encouraged.

What can/should organizationsdo to foster preservation of industrial heritage in their communities and constituencies?

Educate! First and foremost there is a need to increase awareness of the resources that exist, raise concern about threats to these resources, and help inform the public of values retained in these sites, structures, and landscapes. In these days when fewer and fewer Americans (and Westerners in general) are involved in manufacturing or industrial production, fewer people appreciate the role that this kind of labor and productivity served in creating the world we now inhabit. Education and publication programs to inform the public, emphasizing the role of industry in American history, are essential to encourage an appreciation of the sites and landscapes of industry that surround us, and that are disappearing daily.

Study! National and state organizations should support more survey and inventory work, to proactively identify and evaluate resources that deserve preservation attention. By the time these resources are identified in the Section 106 review process, or slated for demolition in brownfield redevelopment schemes, it is often too late to advocate for preservation alternatives. It may also be too late to produce meaningful and convincing evaluations, especially because there is so little comparative information to help gauge a site’s relative value and quality. Thematic and/or regional studies that create inventories and generate priority lists of the best examples are needed to help guide decision makers.

Engage! Working with groups such as the Society for Industrial Archeology, we can increase active involvement in industrial heritage preservation and tourism. Industrial heritage sites often hold intrinsic interest to people who are curious about how things are made, how things work, and what went on in the remote recesses of once off-limits industrial facilities.

Increasing legitimate access can promote wider interest in and concern for these places. The National Trust’s “This Place Matters” campaign has helped citizens recognize town centers, buildings, and landscapes that are important to them, even if they aren’t fully able to articulate why. Perhaps we should build on that program to raise awareness that in many communities—“This Workplace Matters.”