A Tale of Two (Shrinking) Cities, Historic Preservation Style

Congratulations to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network upon publication of PUTTING THE RIGHT IN RIGHT-SIZING: A historic preservation case study.

The Christman Building: Lansing home of the Michigan Municipal League and the first Triple Platinum LEED building in the world. Formerly vacant.

The report makes a great case for preservation as shrinking cities struggle to right-size their programs and services. The 57-page review is important for any community leader who is dealing with the challenges associated with population loss, aging infrastructure and dwindling municipal finances. I fully recommend reading it.

From the report:

“IN FALL 2010, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network created a preservation specialist position in the cities of Saginaw and Lansing, Mich., both of which were undergoing some form of rightsizing planning, most notably within the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program1 (NSP). The specialist provided technical assistance to NSP and city planning staff in each community, including Section 106 help, specification writing, infill design, GIS updating, master plan review and surveying historic districts. The specialist also worked with each city’s historic district commission and the community-at-large to educate and advocate for preservation citywide. This involved a number of tasks, chief among them was the establishment of local preservation advocacy groups.

From this experience, the case study offers a number of observations for preservation and planning professionals about the role of preservation in cities undergoing rightsizing. The case study also offers suggestions for integrating preservation into rightsizing more broadly, including the need for:

Saginaw, MI- population 51,508, down from nearly 100,000 in 1960

1) Large scale rightsizing programs such as NSP to offer homeowner
improvement grants.
2) Integration of historic preservation into land bank2 planning models.
3) More creative and flexible approaches to the reuse of historic buildings
and spaces to meet changing housing needs in the face of contemporary
demographic shifts.
4) Beginning the Section 106 consultation process and staff training in how to execute the process as early as possible when large scale demolitions are planned.
5) Neighborhood-based leadership to advocate for preservation.