Why preservation? What are the benefits?

There are many benefits to historic preservation. Some of the more intangible and personal benefits are often downplayed and under-recognized, but many people feel a deep-seated connection to old places, and enjoy being in places which have experienced years and years of history.

Tom Mayes, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel at National Trust for Historic Preservation, has spoken widely on this subject. He is the author of the book “Why Old Places Matter”, which explores the deep attachments people have with old places, and the fundamentally important feelings of belonging, continuity, stability, identity and memory, which old places can provide. Regrets go only one way. Rather, over the years, I’ve heard regrets expressed about tearing a building down. “We just didn’t know” that a neighborhood was on the cusp of revival, that an old building was so significant, that an old building might have profitable new uses, or that what resulted turned out to be less valuable than what was lost. Other benefits of preserving historic places include the following:

Quality and Substance
Old buildings are reminders of a place’s substance and complexity. Without historic buildings, visitors, and even longtime residents, can find it difficult to discern the character of a place. Old buildings are vital to providing a sense of permanency and a sense of identity. Another benefit of historic preservation is quality― the superior quality of historic buildings, and the loss of quality when historic places are destroyed. Quality of place also remains a key factor in where people choose to live and businesses choose to open their doors.

Buildings that were created before 1900 were often made of superior and rare materials, such as heart pine wood, which is incredibly hard to find today due to over-harvesting. These materials were meant to withstand the harshest weather conditions, and the fact that many still stands is a testament to the workmanship and attention to detail these builders exemplified. Buildings that are created today are typically made from standard materials such as concrete, brick, poor-quality wood, and commonly found metals.

It is also almost impossible to find someone who can perform the type of high-quality craftsmanship which expert stonecutters, masons, and woodcarvers performed on on historic buildings.

Educational Benefits
Historic buildings are a record of ourselves and our communities, and preserving important historic resources creates a visible connection with the community’s history and culture. Historic places also preserve and promote the human stories of people who built, lived, or worked in them.

Historic places can provide many educational opportunities, which can’t be provided by strictly classroom-held lessons. Physically visiting, touching, and experiencing historic places can spark peoples’ imaginations in ways that in-class learning cannot.

Economic Benefits
In 2015, Virginia Commonwealth University completed a study, commissioned by Preservation Virginia, with support from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, on the economic benefits of historic preservation. It found that the benefits of bringing old buildings back to life ripples across the economy and through local communities to contribute billions to the state’s economic health. See https://preservationvirginia.org/press_release/vcu-study-finds-historic-preservation-contributes-to-virginias-economy-by-u/ for more information and links to the studies.

Rehabilitation of older buildings produces higher-paying jobs than new construction and the money tends to stay in the local economy. Preserving historic resources also provides stability of property values, and show stronger appreciation over the long term. Economic incentives such as historic rehabilitation tax credits and tax deductions can provide strong financial opportunities to owners of historic buildings.

Heritage tourism is an important driver of Virginia’s economy, generating over 7 billion a year, according to the study commissioned by Preservation Virginia and conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University. Old places are tourism destinations, and have been so for millennia. The economic benefits of heritage tourism are unparalleled, heritage visitors stay longer, spend more per day, and, therefore, have a significantly greater per trip economic impact. See https://preservationvirginia.org/resources/publications/ for this and other reports.

For more information of economic benefits of historic preservation see https://www.achp.gov/sites/default/files/guidance/2018-06/Economic%20Impacts%20v5-FINAL.pdf and www.placeeconomics.com.

Environmental Benefits
Preservation is good for the Environment. Preserving older buildings is a wise use of infrastructure, land, and non-renewable resources. Preservation entails an investment in the existing built environment rather than using land and resources to build new. Preserving and reusing existing buildings makes better use of tax dollars by reducing the need for new roads, sewers, and utilities. Avoiding demolition reduces landfill waste. Historic preservation is an important part of “smart,” or sustainable, growth.

Old Buildings Attract People and Businesses
American’s downtown revivals suggest that people like old buildings. When downtowns began to turn around, it happened mostly in old buildings. Historic preservation provides well-built and human-scaled environments that are attractive places to live, work, or visit. They also to preserve traditional development patterns, denser business districts, and walkable neighborhoods. Many new, innovative businesses prefer older buildings because they are individualistic, unique, interesting, and inspiring, and because they draw people. Many people are choosing to live in apartments and condos in old buildings downtown, to be closer to transportation, shopping and other people. But there is a finite supply of older buildings, and every time one is torn down, the supply is smaller, and places become less appealing, and less marketable.

For more information, see https://forum.savingplaces.org/blogs/forum-online/2015/04/16/why-do-old-places-matter-economics.