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Historic Preservation Planning for Local Communities


What is Planning?

Planning is about the future – the kind of future we’d like to see – and laying out how it can happen.

Planning is a rational, systematic process of figuring out where we are, where we want to go, and how to get there.

There are many kinds of planning. Individuals plan, as do organizations. All follow a similar process. Historic preservation planning focuses on historic and cultural resources to establish a course of action that will ensure future preservation of these resources.

Historic preservation planning is one type of planning that local governments can carry out, differing only in subject matter from the planning done for housing, transportation, environment, land use, or recreation, for example.

What is a Historic Preservation Plan?

A historic preservation plan is a statement of the community’s goals for its historic properties and the actions it will take to reach those goals. It is most effective when it is a component of a community’s master plan and is coordinated with other policies for housing, economic development, transportation, etc. Communities that do not have a master plan, or that will not be revising it soon, can create a separate historic preservation plan to serve in the interim.
          [from “Why Plan for Historic Preservation,” Ohio Historic
          Preservation Office’s on-line Preservation Toolbox.]

Because historic and cultural resources occupy land area, historic preservation can be thought of as a land use. It is, therefore, imperative to plan for preservation in ways that are compatible and coordinated with the ways used to plan for and decide how land is used.

A Note on Terms

The term preservation planning is used here to refer to the planning for the identification, evaluation, registration, protection, interpretation, research, and use of historic and cultural resources. It is a bit of short-hand for historic preservation planning. This term can also encompass cultural resource management planning, heritage management planning, and similar terms.

Planning is Important Because...

Planning puts you in control.

Planning helps you distinguish the truly important from the merely urgent.

Planning helps you set priorities among many competing demands.

Planning allows you to be proactive rather than reacting to every crisis when it arises.

Planning is also important because it…

  • Establishes public policy for the preservation of a community’s valued heritage;

  • Provides the legal foundation and supporting rationale for developing or strengthening a local historic preservation ordinance;

  • Provides a forum for discussion of issues related to historic resources and development;

  • Brings predictability to the land development process;

  • Creates an agenda for future preservation activities; and

  • Helps the community comply with federal and state historic preservation and environmental quality laws.

[from "An Introduction to Historic Preservation Planning," by Amy Facca. Planning Commissioners Journal number 52, Fall 2003.]

Purposes of Planning

The primary purpose of historic preservation planning is to make sure that our valued heritage is protected and well-managed for the benefit of future generations.

Other, no less important purposes include:

  • To officially identify those places and characteristics that the community believes are important and worth preserving.

  • To build consensus toward a shared vision of the future.

  • To influence the direction of change so it is sensitive to preservation and historic and cultural resource values.

  • To influence decision-makers at the federal, state, and local levels.

  • To communicate preservation vision and values effectively.

  • To state clearly the goals of historic preservation in the community.

Authorities for Planning

The kind of preservation planning done by local communities depends in large part upon the kind of community planning required by state law.

Planning and zoning for a community’s future growth are authorities derived from state enabling legislation, which are generally referred to as the police power for the general public health and welfare. States with growth management laws, such as Oregon, Florida, Georgia, and Maryland, for example, tend to have more detailed requirements for local planning, including historic preservation planning, than do states without such laws.

It is important, therefore, to become familiar with your state planning laws, your state historic preservation laws, and with your local planning and preservation ordinances as you begin to prepare your local preservation plan.

As there is great diversity among thousands of local communities, so there is a wide variety in the preservation plans that they might produce. Each community’s preservation plan should address its own unique characteristics and concerns. Even so, there are certain common features shared by all preservation planning, and some general guidance is offered here.

Who Does Planning?

Typically, a local preservation plan would be prepared by the local planning office preservation staff, with the involvement of the Preservation Commission and broad public participation. For additional information, see Identify and Locate Your Local Planning Agency, prepared by the American Planning Association.

Local communities also contract with consulting firms to prepare local preservation plans. Information on using consultants can be found in Step 1 of the General Planning Process in these web pages.

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