Preservation Issues

In light of the economic and social context, the public preservation survey results, public forums and discussions with the Steering Committee and THC staff, eight key preservation issues were identified for the statewide plan to address. These issues form the backbone of the plan and informed the development of the vision, goals and ultimate outcomes. Click on each issue to learn more.

Preservation-Based Economic Development

Historic preservation has proven and sustainable economic benefits for communities. Preservation can equal jobs, tax dollars, local business development, tourism revenue, downtown revitalization and a myriad of other contributors to the economy – often times at a greater return on investment than traditional economic development strategies. Many communities in Texas look to the rehabilitation of their historic assets as an integral component in their economic development. Many others still, especially in rural areas, struggle to find the resources, tools and policies to leverage their historic places into economic generators. The recent statewide preservation survey overwhelmingly confirmed community interest in partnering historic preservation with economic development; it ranked as the number one approach (and tool to improve) to accomplishing local preservation.

Issues to Explore

  • Communities are not aware of the economic development tools, nor how to use them, for the purposes of historic preservation.
  • The economic benefits of preservation are not readily available nor clearly understood for communities to use in their discussions and decision-making.
  • Economic development tools and their use for historic preservation are not a “one size fits all” model; applying these tools effectively requires a thoughtful, tailored analysis and approach.
  • Historic preservation is not taken seriously as an economic development tool.
  • Studies on the economic impact of historic preservation in Texas are outdated; the last comprehensive study was published in 1999.

Preservation Education & Awareness

Our youth today are the stewards of Texas’ history tomorrow. The future of preserving Texas’ historic places depends upon educating younger generations about its value and importance. Historic places provide an authentic and interactive experience of history, making it a valuable learning tool for educators and students (public and private school teachers, homeschoolers, parents and grandparents included!). Students in K-12, community college, trade schools, colleges and universities are all prime audiences for learning about historic preservation through curricula in related studies.

Encouraging and providing resources for the continuing education of individuals already in the field of preservation, or in related fields (such as architecture, planning, public administration, tourism, etc.), is also critical. Technologies, methods, policies and tools for historic preservation change and evolve. In some cases, traditional building craft is becoming a lost art, and there are few skilled craftspeople who carry on the knowledge and techniques of historic building methods.

As Texas’ population increases and changes, preservation awareness becomes critical. Texans are proud of their state and heritage, however a preservation ethic is not widespread. Misconceptions about preservation mingle with strong property rights attitudes in rural and urban areas alike. In Texas, preservation is not widely known as a proven mechanism for economic development and community revitalization.

Issues to Explore

  • Lack of preservation integrated into formal history curricula
  • Need for preservation education for public officials and policy makers
  • Need for preservation education for professionals in complimentary disciplines, such as architects, planners, public administrators, public historians, economic developers, tourism professionals, etc.
  • Traditional building methods and materials conservation is becoming a lost art
  • Stronger opportunities for continuing education and resources for preservation professionals
  • Promoting preservation to mainstream audiences and stakeholders.
  • Engaging organizations who impact preservation efforts (developers, real estate professionals, contractors, etc.).
  • Separating the myths from realities of historic preservation.

Information Infrastructure for Preservation

Information is a powerful tool. The most basic yet critical information for successful preservation activities is the simple identification of historic and cultural resources. If we don’t know what exists, how can we preserve it, let along use it effectively for the betterment of our communities? With every year, more properties are viewed as historic, and different property types and architectural styles are acknowledged as significant. Survey and inventory is an ongoing and constantly evolving endeavor. Once a community is aware of the historic resources it has, information on the tools, funding, methods and technologies of preservation become essential.

The dialogue about preservation is more than compiling information on resources and methods, however. Preserving place is an ongoing public discourse with a myriad of contributing perspectives. New social media developments can allow for this discussion and exchange of ideas in spite of the geographical distances of the state.

Issues to Explore

  • Need for a comprehensive online statewide survey and inventory as the basis for effective preservation planning, cultural resource management, heritage tourism and community revitalization
  • Lack of an effective clearinghouse of information on preservation tools, issues, practices, etc.
  • Opportunity for preservation to tap into new social media venues to engage a broader and more diverse constituency in the preservation dialogue, especially younger audiences
  • Need for up-to-date and consistent statistics and information that illustrate the economic and social benefits of preservation

Cultural Landscapes

The study and application of cultural landscapes within the preservation movement has become an important, yet not widely practiced, development in the field. Cultural landscapes allow us to see, interpret and experience places that emphasize the interaction between human beings and nature over time. They provide a comprehensive and contextual perspective of historic places situated within their environment; rather than looking at an individual structure, cultural landscapes seek to understand how that structure connects to the world around it. Because most of our environment is shaped by people, cultural landscapes are broadly defined and can include places like cemeteries, ranch lands and farmsteads, public parks and entire historic districts (just to name a few!).

According to the Cultural Landscape Foundation, these places “provide scenic, economic, ecological, social, recreational, and educational opportunities helping communities to better understand themselves.” Growth, development and neglect, along with a lack of public awareness and understanding, jeopardize these important places in Texas, whether they be a working ranch, a scenic highway or an urban designed park. So much of Texas, historically and present, is defined by people’s relationship to the land. Cultural landscapes hold great potential as progressive and powerful tools for communities to not only understand themselves, but to enhance their quality of life.

Issues to Explore

  • Cultural landscapes are an endangered resource in Texas. From historic ranches, agricultural lands and farmsteads being lost to development around urban centers, to cemeteries that no-one knows their whereabouts; the diversity of type and threat to cultural landscapes is vast and varied.
  • The majority of land in Texas is privately owned, adding to the challenge of identifying and preserving important cultural landscapes throughout the state.
  • The sheer size of Texas and its distinct regional geographies.
  • Raising the level of awareness of a cultural landscape perspective, to preservation professionals and the general public.
  • Lack of a cultural landscape initiative or program in Texas to provide assistance, resources and raise awareness.

Diversity in Preservation

Texas’ past, present and future are the sum of the efforts and vision of a diverse population. The hands of Native Americans, Tejanos, Mexicans, African-Americans, Europeans and countless others built the Lone Star State. This diversity must be represented and respected in the historic and cultural landscape and within the community that preserves Texas’ built legacy. Likewise, the preservation community must rethink how historic buildings and sites are interpreted, seeking out inclusive, but often challenging, new meanings to people, events and places.Diversity also means engaging younger generations of Texans.

Key Issues to Explore

  • Retooling preservation programs and activities to focus on culturally diverse places and underrepresented stories
  • Creating inclusive opportunities and partnerships for preservation
  • The need for interpretation and/or the re-interpretation of sites to tell the complete story(ies)
  • How to introduce and engage young Texans in preservation

Historic Housing and Homeowners

Historic homes comprise the vast majority of Texas’ historic built fabric and historic homeowners are our largest stakeholder. The issues facing homeowners and historic residential areas are complex and diverse. Rural communities face the continuing trend of out-migration to urban areas, leaving historic homes and neighborhoods vacant and neglected. Urban residential neighborhoods are confronted with varied market forces. “Hot” neighborhoods continue to be affected by development pressure, particularly where historic homes are demolished and replaced with structures that are out of character in scale, massing, footprint and design to what exists in the neighborhood. Low income areas that become desirable, urban neighborhoods are challenged with the involuntary displacement of residents who can no longer afford to live there. Urban historic neighborhoods not perceived as desirable face abandonment and demolition by neglect, leaving clearance and rebuilding as the only viable option to recovery. In all of these scenarios, whether in urban or rural areas, the lack of historic designations, design guidelines and review, leave Texas’ historic housing stock in jeopardy. Homeowners need the information, technical and financial assistance to best preserve, maintain and live in the historic places that are the foundation for healthy communities across the state.

Issues to Explore

  • Lack of a state and federal tax incentive for historic homeowners.
  • Local historic review perceived as an unfriendly and burdensome process.
  • Difficulty for small and rural communities to develop and implement design guidelines for historic residential neighborhoods.
  • Perception that rehabilitating and/or restoring a historic house will be more expensive than buying new(er) construction.
  • Historic lower-income neighborhoods challenged with demolition by neglect and abandonment; when interest develops in neighborhood, then confronted with gentrification issues.
  • The “teardown” trend of historic building demolition with replacement structures that are out of character and scale.
  • The connection, or lack thereof, of new ”green” improvements and incentives with historic preservation.

Legal Framework of Preservation

The laws and policies that protect historic and cultural resources, whether they be at the local, state or federal level, are essential and often the most effective tools to accomplishing historic preservation; yet no other approach is as controversial or misunderstood.

Issues to Explore

  • Counties in Texas lack legal planning authority to protect historic and cultural places
  • Many incorporated municipalities do not have the will or the resources to implement preservation policies
  • Communities that have passed preservation ordinances often struggle with enforcement
  • Public perception that preservation ordinances take away property rights
  • Section 106 is an important, but underused, community tool for preservation
  • Information about preservation laws in Texas is not presented in a clear, concise or readily accessible format

Sustainability and Preservation

Architect Carl Elefante summed up the connection between historic preservation and sustainability in this simple sentiment: “The greenest building is one that is already built.” The relationship and similarity between preservation and sustainability is clear. Both hold common values including stewardship, conservation, placemaking and most of all considering future generations as we make decisions about meeting our current generation’s needs.

Sustainability encompasses a wide and diverse range of environmental, social and economic practices, from green building and smart growth to recycling and family farming (just to name a few), however historic preservation is seldom found in the vocabulary or core strategies of sustainability. The two practices are even perceived at times to be in conflict with one another. Yet when it comes to the real numbers of energy and environmental costs for building and development, reusing and adapting our existing building stock is the easy answer.

Issues to Explore

  • Preservation and sustainability are natural allies; yet there is not formal partnership and even a perception of conflict between the two
  • Lack of information about the efficiencies of historic building materials; building owners automatically think new, “green” technologies are superior, yet this is often not the case
  • Lack of information on how to use green building technologies and materials in a compatible manner with historic buildings
  • Need for historic preservation to be better integrated into LEED standards and certification, including LEED for neighborhood development