Local Government Programs
Preservation Where It Counts
LINA COFRESI AND ROSETTA RADTKE
“Expansive, ebullient, optimistic and tolerant of change” is how one writer described the contemporary American preservation movement in 1987, a dramatic evolution from the “almost crisis-oriented” outlook expressed by the Special Committee on Historic Preservation in its report, With Heritage So Rich. 1 The spirit, perspective, and substance of the American preservation movement at all levels evolved at an even faster pace throughout the 1980s and 1990s and into the twenty-first century. How, why, and what brought about these changes and some issues for the future of preservation at the local level are addressed in this chapter.
Although local governments are the most important engines of preservation activity because of their close physical proximity to the citizens most directly affected, they do not act independently. Their regulatory authority is an exercise of delegated state power, and the fiscal incentives they can provide for preservation—grants, loans, tax breaks, revolving funds, easements, and the like—come from many sources, public, private, and nonprofit.
Local governments are thus both enabled and constrained—legally, politically, and practically—by many factors, and they do not act (or fail to act) entirely on their own. Federal and state resources, programs and policies, the state of the economy, and the availability of public-private-nonprofit partnerships thus dictate that in all the states, local governments will inevitably attack the same preservation problem in a different way. While the American preservation movement has moved beyond the saving of individual buildings, communities have the option of devising their own philosophy about what is important and how to preserve it. A few will go no further than preserving a historic house museum. Others will target entire neighborhoods. Others will merge traditional preservation interests with larger issues involving planning and growth management. This freedom for local governments to determine for