Preservation as an Integral Community Development Strategy

Monica Callahan is Planning & Development Director for the City of Madison, Georgia, and a partner in Piedmont Preservation, LLC—a preservation planning services firm. She will serve as presenter and seminar facilitator for the interactive leadership training seminar, “Historic Preservation: Tools and Strategies for City Leaders,” on Wednesday, November 19, from 1:00-4:30pm at the Congress of Cities in Austin.

As local governments seek to attract and implement quality growth, community leaders typically engage in old school SWOT analysis (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats).  Too often, historic resources are viewed as a negative condition to be addressed instead of being valued for their benefits.

The extant built environment and particularly older structures embody our shared cultural heritage, as well as superior building materials and unique craftsmanship. These assets create a sense of place and offer guiding context for future development.

Successful efforts to acknowledge, document, protect, and celebrate historic resources arise in both the private and public sector.  However, today’s elected officials are uniquely positioned to implement a range of heritage protection measures, safeguarding these community assets and creating new opportunities. 

Preservation can be another tool through which city leaders insure stable and attractive neighborhoods, sustain adequate and well-maintained housing stock, and capture part of the heritage tourism market.

Incorporating a strong preservation strategy in its planning endeavors, Madison, Georgia (pop.<5,000), has fully reversed the state of affairs where, in 1970, nearly three-quarters of the housing stock was considered dilapidated or deteriorating and the downtown was in decline.  City leadership used preservation tools and strategic community investment to attract tens of thousands of visitors annually and develop a 40 million dollar tourism-based economy to augment its industrial base.

Preservation policy can be successfully integrated with other municipal planning policies and objectives, ultimately imbuing zoning regulations, unfit building and public nuisance standards, fire and safety codes, green space and sustainability initiatives, and downtown revitalization and urban redevelopment with character and greater purpose. 

Use of preservation tools can: open up preservation tax incentives for property owners and businesses, stabilize and improve the tax base, provide a contextual guide and a vote of confidence for new investment, support local economic and community development strategies, and save a community’s irreplaceable culture and history.