Introducing Next American City: A Promotional Partner of the 2010 National Preservation Conference


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When people think of the future of cities, many probably don’t think of historic preservation, but Next American City and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are seeking to change that. Indeed, the people who care about the fabric of urban life are often the same people who are interested in preserving the historic integrity of the built environment. Though we may have distinct sources of inspiration, our goals are the same: to ensure that America is full of places that have character and meaning.

Next American City and the National Trust for Historic Preservation decided to team up for the 2010 National Preservation Conference when we realized that our missions and advocacy work are aligned, but our constituencies aren’t. There are still many urban thinkers who do not consider historic preservation as part of their work, and likewise preservationists who do not also think of themselves as urbanists. And yet many cities have forged urban revitalization plans based upon rejuvenating old main streets and downtowns, by creating a clever mix of old and new buildings and landscapes.

Groups that have fought the demolition of mid-century buildings for parking lots in Los Angeles, who lobbied for historic designations for neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and who have rallied around endangered buildings in Philadelphia have been the mainstays of urban revival for decades, but perhaps haven’t seen themselves as part of the same movement as the groups urging local government to provide better public transportation, or more affordable housing, or better parks.

Although urban planners and policy makers assume the need for historic preservation, they often fail to use it explicitly as a fundamental approach for improving cities. The renewal of New Orleans and Detroit, for example, has been the focus of much media attention lately; yet the preservation and adaptive use of historic structures has not been portrayed as an important economic tool these cities can use to help restore healthy communities and create jobs. While historic preservation has been used selectively in revitalizing parts of Detroit and New Orleans, media coverage is filled with stories about the demolition of old houses in Detroit or the abandonment of historic structures such as Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

Historic preservation needs to be viewed as a fulcrum of many of the things we love about cities: not just beauty, history, and integrity, but all the good stuff that goes along with those outcomes. Communities that have these characteristics are ones that have engaged inhabitants, that are places where people want to visit, live, play, and even work. Indeed, the top priority for any city in 2010 is quality job creation—strong communities by definition drive economic activity. Moreover, the very act of preservation is overlooked as an economic sector that could even be a part of the Obama administration’s agenda for creating green jobs.

It’s clear that we’re in it together—the comebacks of cities like New Orleans and Detroit are staked upon the capacity of planners, preservationists, thinkers, policy makers, and regular engaged citizens to act collaboratively. We need to apply the insights and tools of both of our specialties to achieve our shared ideals of better American cities.

About Next American City

Next American City was founded seven years ago with a mission to promote socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable communities. Based out of Philadelphia, the organization has grown from a fledgling all-volunteer project to one with a small, full-time staff. Through content partnerships, such as a collaborative podcast on urban affairs created with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, we are widening the breadth of our audience. And with funding from foundations such as the Rockefeller Institution and Living Cities, as well as small donations from individuals around the country, we are growing our capacity.

Next American City’s goal is to capture the “urban moment” happening in the United States. Major media organizations, including Fast Company and The Atlantic, have launched special sections devoted to urban spaces and affairs. The first “urban” president has created an Office on Urban Affairs, and Congress is currently debating a “livable cities” act. There is a surging interest in urban affairs and a recognition that America’s success lies in the success of its cities and metropolitan areas. As the number of urban advocates increases exponentially, Next American City is in a prime position to reach them and unite them.

Next American City’s main focus is outreach through a quarterly magazine and webposts. We publish investigative stories, interviews, and daily web reports on topics as varied as an innovative “shrinking cities” plan in Youngstown, Ohio; urban agriculture in Los Angeles; a new transit-oriented development scheme in Minneapolis; and how online applications are helping Washington, D.C.’s urban forestry system. Historic preservation has been a mainstay of our coverage—including an entire issue on this in 2006—and will receive even more attention in the future.

Next American City readers include advocates of all kinds. Of the 35,000 people who read our magazine each quarter and 70,000 who read our website each month, the majority are emerging leaders in planning, government, nonprofit work, and related fields aged 21 to 40. Regardless of profession, age, or region of the country, Next American City’s community is defined by a passion for improving this country’s metropolitan areas.

We also connect people by organizing events and conferences around the country. From conversations on public transportation in Milwaukee to the creative economy in Cincinnati to the role of bloggers in shaping local zoning issues in Washington, D.C., these events convene a variety of stakeholders in cities and allow the public to engage with local experts, organizations, and national leaders on the issues that are closest to home.

Making the Connection

Is there a way to better link the historic preservation and urban advocacy communities to help drive real change? We think so. In order to facilitate more interaction between these groups, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Next American City will be partnering in several ways.

At the National Preservation Conference, on Thursday, October 28, Next American City will be hosting a salon-style panel conversation about historic preservation’s role in urban policy. With the Obama administration’s renewed focus on American cities, is there a distinct opportunity to link the historic preservation and urban policy communities’ work together? Policy and preservation experts from around the country will talk about how preservation has helped to revitalize American cities in the past and present, and how it will help achieve our 21st-century goals of more economic growth, better well-being, and environmental sustainability.

The quarterly magazine Next American City will also play a key role in connecting urban development and preservation interests. The magazine will be given out at the conference, and all registrants will also receive a subscription for the next year, courtesy of the National Trust. The magazine will offer a holistic platform for continuing the discussion about cities. Beyond integrating more preservation coverage in the magazine, we seek to engage more preservationists in urban affairs topics. We invite preservation advocates to submit story ideas for the magazine and participate in our ongoing events around the country.

We anticipate that this is just the beginning of a discussion about preservation’s role in cities. What better way to approach the urban future than by respecting the past? By incorporating history’s stewards in our cities’ planning and development, we’ll all share in the creation of more vibrant, livable communities.