Change Starts Here: Preservation Priorities for President Obama

The parade is over and the balls are history: Barack Obama is officially the 44th President of the United States.

Just as it has with administrations from both parties for many years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is eager to work with the Obama Administration on policies that protect and enhance our country’s irreplaceable historic resources, but we can’t do it without you.

From Main Street to your street, President Obama can provide leadership for strong and effective federal stewardship of our heritage that builds livable, sustainable and economically-viable communities while preserving our history for future generations.

As we continue to work with the new administration, we want to hear from you. Tell us which of the following action items have the biggest effects in your community, and then post comments with your own unique preservation stories and ideas.

Preservation and the Economy

Main Streets across the country – both urban commercial centers and rural downtowns – are struggling. President Obama should propose preservation-based economic development incentives, such as expanding the historic rehabilitation tax credit that created 40,000 new jobs last year and has, to date, leveraged over $45 billion in private investment and returned over 34,800 buildings to productive reuse.

Historic Preservation and Sustainability

As opposed to new construction, preservation responsibly conserves the built environment, which is an effective tool for reducing carbon emissions, combating climate change, and saving money on energy bills. President Obama should support measures that provide strong incentives to reuse and retrofit existing homes and buildings, recycle materials, increase building efficiency and maximize inherent environmental benefits.

Historic Preservation and Natural Disaster Relief and Preparedness

Devastating natural disasters have damaged historic structures and communities in the Gulf Coast and the Midwest. Because natural disasters have an immediate and widespread effect on historic properties, President Obama should develop a preparedness plan including a proactive, comprehensive survey of disaster-prone historic resources as well as addressing urgent response and recovery.

Historic Preservation and Transportation Policies

Transportation and preservation share a common goal to create better lives for Americans. As Congress prepares to reauthorize our nation's transportation programs, President Obama should continue to fund transportation enhancements and propose policies that support preservation-based approaches to strengthening our nation's transportation resources, such as the reuse of existing infrastructure in older and historic communities.

Historic Preservation and Public Land

A variety of threats, including insufficient historic and archeological survey information, expose millions of acres of public land to vandalism, destruction and neglect. President Obama should provide agency-wide leadership to responsibly manage historic and cultural resources on public lands.

Historic Preservation and Federal Stewardship

The federal government funds the national historic preservation program and provides critical leadership among its agencies to care for historic resources. President Obama should propose full funding to protect our heritage, and ensure that preservation reviews take place in the earliest phases of project development, not as an afterthought.


This story is closed to new comments.

Submitted by SW11 at: February 17, 2009
Preservation is a key concern for both Obama, and it has to be for every President that takes office after him, because we are beginning to face a serious crisis. We are going to run out of land, and the toll it can take on our nation will be a heavy one. Now not only do historic sites need preservation, but our wildlife habitats do as well. As we creep north, our encroachment onto territory of some dangerous animals is going to have a human cost, for instance, bears and moose. Either of these animals are more than capable of killing a human being, and as much as PETA relishes that idea, it's vital that we don't introduce them into an environment where they are unafraid of crossing into our territory, or have to in order to feed. And this one we can get the kids in on, too. Get this - a 2 for 1 on things that our children are in need of better education about: health, and preserving the environment. Instead of going to Disneyland, or Six Flags (well, they're going out of business anyway) take the family on a hiking trip. Find a trail less than 3 miles in length that has sites you can camp on. It gets them out in the open air, away from the Playstation, exercising, and they get to see nature in its relatively untouched state. Best of all, it costs less than taking them to a resort of some kind, so you don't need to worry about getting payday loans to go on vacation.

Submitted by Mariano A at: February 3, 2009
Everybody is hoping that this stimulus package would be successful on freeing us from economic recession. Aside from providing immediate tax cuts for workers and families, this stimulus also includes two parts, one for providing aid to child care on military bases, and the other is a chunk of change that will enhance sex education in the U.S. These are good actions since education is a valuable thing. However, this may not be the best time for this kind of expense. They deserve their own bill. Read more about quick payday loans and the stimulus bill here.

Submitted by Pam at: January 21, 2009
As I see it, one of the primary ways historic preservation drives economic development is through heritage tourism. History is the cultural magnet that draws local, regional, and international visitors to areas that capitalize on their historic resources -- not just to specific attractions, but to the rooted, feeling of place these older communities possess. Baltimore is a city that is still rich in these resources but has not yet connected the dots in marketing and promoting them. Here, we laud the rehabilitation of historic communities like Canton and Federal Hill, just as we quickly demolish historic waterfront and other less well-known historic infrastructure. Baltimore and other cities cannot afford to squander preservation opportunities during an economic recession that calls out for maximizing the return on existing resources. A new national campaign on the economic benefits of preserving America's historic fabric should be part of the new Obama Administration's economic recovery plan. Let's put tax credits and other incentives in language that Americans can get excited about.

Submitted by Mimi at: January 3, 2009
I am concerned that none of the above address issues relating to non-profit owners of historic properties, particularly historic preservation organizations and museums. These organizations should be supported in rehabilitating historic properties that are open to the public and contribute to the economy of their cities and states. Governments benefit from greater access to federal and state dollars. Private owners benefit from tax credits. Non-profits receive little funding for preservation projects.

Submitted by hermhill at: December 26, 2008
one of many key omissions = A Needed Emphasis on diversity, and improving the way ethnic sites are presented to visitors; and, protecting & restoring those sites and structures, and improving the visibility and interpretation of historic place. ECONOMIC STIMULUS funds should be directed to and have a priority preference for supporting sites which can be made ready to show the impact and contribution of ethnic minorites

Submitted by landsmith at: December 20, 2008
Now is OUR chance! Let's not miss it. We have a lot ot loose and more to gain!

Submitted by bees in my bonnet at: December 16, 2008
The sustainability question looms large in my view - a healthy economy is not one that is constantly growing but rather, one that is constantly renewing itself, maintaining a steady state with slow evolution rather than rapid growth. Preservation of the built environment is a model and an opportunity for sustainable economic practices. That preservation effort needs to include not just the built environment but the entire landscape. The natural and historic landscape has been altered significantly by road construction/improvements and unbridled development. We need a moratorium on new construction of roads and green field development. There are better ways to achieve economic health. One particular aspect of this is that all too often, transportation system 'improvements' result in negative impacts on the historic landscape. Great care needs to be exercised when considering any changes to roads. (For example, in some cases a bypass road might have a beneficial effect while in others, it might destroy more than it will save, with minimal long-term economic, cultural or environmental benefit.) Every effort should be made to avoid modifying any existing roadway unless it would represent a very significant improvement in safety. New construction should be avoided - it seems that new roads do little to relieve traffic problems; instead, they tend to make the destination more accessible, increasing traffic overall. More effort needs to be put into redeveloping railways. There are many, many miles of railways which are underused or unused. As we learn (too slowly) that cars and trucks are not always the best way to move people and goods, perhaps we might look to reviving old railways. It is madness to throw away the energy that went into these. (Indeed, unless there is a moratorium as suggested above, why not require a railway as an alternative where new roads are under consideration?) There's much more but we'll leave that for the book!

Submitted by P-Lo at: December 6, 2008
One particular thing that I would like to see change in is the supposed "green building" movement that focuses on new construction instead of the obvious recycling of existing buildings, and as a subset of that, I would like there to be more public education about the true "greenness" the replacement of windows. I would also like to see the public become more educated about the misconceptions of historic preservation. Most people I talk to, even the very educated ones, think that if a building is old then nobody is allowed to touch it, and if they do, they need to restore it to its original appearance. People still have a negative view toward HP and that needs to change. I also believe that change begins with children, that historic preservation should be taught at the elementary school level along with environmental lessons. Thank you for taking this survey.

Submitted by Marty at: December 4, 2008
All of the above are worth consideration. I have chosen three which I think are very important.

Submitted by Linda at: November 26, 2008
National incentives that focus on reinvestment, historic preservation, and adaptive use in our cities and towns are needed. As evidenced by the recent housing development frenzy and fall, we cannot continue to expand into a suburbanized nation. This has greatly impacted our rural communities and natural environment and has resulted in continued disinvestment in existing buildings and infrastructure, and squandering of our tax base, our regional character, and our environment. Sensible and sustainable policy for growth must direct development to where existing infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, public transportation, schools, etc.) already exists. To do otherwise, is costly and certainly not sustainable.

Submitted by Freeman at: November 24, 2008
The nation could benefit from expanded investment into our aging cities. We no longer can afford to keep using our natural resources to expand urban development. We need to create a sustanable future, by using our existing cities and built enviroments.

Submitted by Bass at: November 24, 2008
Many communities have beautiful historic properties (Mills, houses etc.) that have been neglected and have fallen into disrepair at least in part because of the lack of financial incentives to reutilize them for another purpose (or for their original purpose). These structures, many of them still sound, have a prominence and an architectural/aesthetic character unmatched by today's construction. Reutilization of historic buildings in a responsible way to conserve resources, open space and the character of our communities. More incentives should be made available for this purpose and possibly disincentives for breaking "new ground" for commercial developments when existing opportunities with historic buildings present have not been fully explored. There may also be a need to somehow provide assistance in addressing certain environmental obstacles (such as hazardous waste, wetlands etc.) and permits that may accompany an historic preservation project.

Submitted by hjmcs at: November 23, 2008
Sustainability is THE top issue in NJ where as of July 1 09, state owned historic sites face closure or curtailment of hours. A densely populated and diverse state, their has been very shortsighted and limited business investment in our historic resources

Submitted by sausalito68 at: November 21, 2008
People need to understand that preservation is good stewardship - not only of the built environment, but of the planet. Preservationists need to step up and be more amenable to working with people to help them understand this. At times, preservationists are too militaristic and myopic - under the guise of being "passionate" about preservation - and they don't understand what a turn off this can be to the general public. So, it's not just the public that needs to embrace preservation, it's preservation that needs to embrace the's a two way street.

Submitted by siobhan at: November 21, 2008
There needs to be federal support for the both the maintenance of and reuse of historic structures, particularly former commercial sites (brownfields) and private residences. In order to retain the character of our older cities, homeowners need a tax credit because the homes are so much more expensive to maintain. Credits for insulation, energy efficient systems and windows, solar panels.

Submitted by CAB at: November 20, 2008
Let's learn how to take care of what we trades training that cares for existing and/or historic construction..."sustainable" means taking care of what we have and getting the maximum out of it...preservation trades people are the ones with the SOLUTIONS to preservation problems...we need to train more of them, encourage trades training and train ourselves to take care of what we have. Building new and buying new is not sustainable...repairing wood windows, plaster walls, heart pine...this is sustainability. Instant gratification is not sustainable.

Submitted by KC at: November 19, 2008
Ensure that if public works projects are part of an economic stimulus package, these do not repeat the mistakes of the past 50 years - this could be a great opportunity to undo some of the problems wreaked on our cities by urban renewal.

Submitted by CFM at: November 17, 2008
Maintain programs that support 'historic easements' with tax incentives. These programs are economically sound, support sustainability, and enhance our national esthetic.

Submitted by JL at: November 15, 2008
Go Obama

Submitted by Usonian at: November 14, 2008
Pollution and climate change are two issues which threaten the health of the human race and are threatening also to the historic built and natural environment. This connection is paramount when considering those solutions to the huge problems of the economy and the sustainability of our planet, our country, our productivity, and our comfort.

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