(Photograph of Queen Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo, Hawaii Island by Andrew Richard Hara.)
The history of a community contributes to its personality. Preserving the history of a place through its significant historic resources gives a community its unique character. Historic preservation provides a link to the roots of the community and its people. Overall, historic preservation adds to the quality of life making for a more livable community. Historic preservation involves much more than simply saving and restoring old buildings and sites of historic importance; there are economic, cultural, environmental, and educational benefits of historic preservation, all of which are inextricably connected to one another and to the living memory of involved communities.
Historic preservation is beneficial to the community in the following ways:
- Culturally a community is richer for having the tangible presence of past eras and historic styles.
- Economically a community benefits from increased property values and tax revenues when historic buildings are protected and made the focal point of revitalization and when the community is attractive to visitors seeking heritage tourism opportunities.
- Socially a community benefits when citizens take pride in its history and mutual concern for the protection of the historic building fabric.
- Developmentally a community benefits from having a concerted and well-defined planning approach for the protection of historic buildings while accommodating healthy growth.
- Environmentally a community benefits when historic buildings are restored or rehabilitated rather than demolished and disposed of in the community landfill.
- Educationally a community benefits through teaching local heritage and the understanding of the past and the resultant cultural respect by its citizens.
Historic Preservation Holds Many Benefits for Local Communities
Historic preservation is an important investment in the present and future. For many preservationists, safeguarding the past through its physical remains is reason enough to justify preservation efforts. However, for those without prior involvement with such efforts, there are many other more tangible reasons why historic preservation matters.
Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation
Historic preservation is a powerful economic engine. In an overwhelming number of economic development studies, historic preservation is a demonstrated tool for providing jobs, increasing household income, increasing the tax base and increasing tourism dollars.
Preservation is an effective tool to revitalize neighborhoods, older communities and commercial districts. The heart and soul of most towns is the downtown, which represent a community’s social identity as well as its economic engine. Reinvestment and revitalizing main streets is the most significant economic-development program most communities can undertake. In examples across the world, it is shown that substantive, sustainable and successful city revitalization results from activities that are preservation-based.
Preservation creates jobs. Because rehabilitation and restoration activities work with existing materials, projects are labor intensive and create more jobs than new construction. While the overall cost of projects is often comparable to building new, the economic benefit is much greater from preservation activities through the creation of well-paying local jobs.
Another important economic benefit is heritage tourism. Many people enjoy a deep fascination with the sites where history took place, as well as with the stories they can directly experience by visiting these historic sites. Heritage tourists, whose travel focuses on historical sites of interest, spend billions of dollars every year and are among the fastest-growing group of tourists. Heritage tourists’ travels provide hundreds of millions of tax dollars, and billions for the hospitality and travel industries.
Cultural Benefits of Historic Preservation
Historic preservation helps keep communities beautiful, vibrant, and livable, and gives people a stake in their surroundings. It connects people with their past, and with one another. History is a great educator, and coming to know the history of a community and its historical sites fosters an individual’s sense of belonging and community pride. Old structures and historic spaces often present the human scale of history. Their design and construction tell us much about the cultures that created them and about the traditions and events from which our society grew.
Historic preservation has been shown to be a key ingredient in stabilizing older communities and bringing citizens together. Historic buildings provide a sense of stability and provide a tangible link with the past that all can experience.
Environmental Benefits of Historic Preservation
Restoring buildings—rather than building new ones, or demolishing existing ones—is environmentally responsible. It is usually more environmentally-friendly to rehabilitate existing structures and maintain and improve existing infrastructure than to simply destroy and replace them.
Razing historic structures has a triple effect on scarce resources, by throwing away materials and their embedded energy; by replacing it with new raw materials; and by expending transport energy for both. Each existing building is an investment of energy, time, and resources. If these structures are simply destroyed, that investment is wasted.
Active historic preservation efforts can help to curb some of the detrimental environmental effects of suburban sprawl, including increased traffic patterns, energy consumption, and environmental degradation. By safeguarding the historic cores of towns and cities and encouraging reinvestment in them, many adverse effects of growth can be greatly reduced.
Educational Benefits of Historic Preservation
The educational opportunities offered by historic preservation are virtually limitless. For students, teachers, and community partners, engaging in historic preservation efforts brings home the importance of such efforts, and reinforces historical education by allowing all those involved to actively participate in its conservation and protection.
Historic preservation takes place in such varied sets and settings that students have opportunities to learn real-world lessons not only in history but also in math, sociology, environmental studies, urban planning, transportation issues, economics, building crafts, and many more disciplines.