Although historic places are disappearing as time goes on, there are still many significant sites that need to be saved. Yet while these special sites are fading away, many of their would-be advocates continue to trot out the same stale, ineffective arguments like, “That place is an important part of our history,” or “It’s such a beautiful building.”
But no matter how awesome it may be, you have to prove a historic place’s value to the community before people in power will consider saving it. You must explain how to get rich off history.
Time to Change
To be clear, I personally love historic places for their intrinsic value. I believe that old buildings have worth in and of themselves and should be saved simply because they are monuments of the past. Even so, I don’t expect others to see things from my point of view and neither should champions of historic places.
It’s time to change how we explain the why of saving places.
If you love old architecture you need to realize that waxing ideological on a building’s beauty or history is a losing proposition. Sure, you may convert a few to your cause, but never the masses and rarely the decision maker in a laissez-faire capitalist society.
Instead of thinking like a history or architecture evangelist you should start thinking more like a marketer or a salesperson. Ask: what’s in it for her—the property owner, the businessperson, the politician, the neighbor? What benefits do historic places offer her?
What’s in a Place?
So what is the value of historic places? First, consider “value” in terms of monetary exchange: how much money is a historic place worth to a community? The short answer: A LOT!
For starters, communities that save their history are rich in jobs. One study found that 18.1 jobs are created for every $1 million spent saving historic places, compared to 14.9 jobs generated by traditional construction.
In addition to jobs, history-friendly neighborhoods are more likely to be enriched with increased property values. This puts more money in your wallet when you sell your home or use it as collateral.
Keeping around historic places is also great for tourism (which brings outside money into your community), for keeping businesses and jobs in your local downtown, and for attracting young people—the coveted Millennial demographic—to your area.
Saving Money by Saving Places
Old buildings are vital to your community’s economic well-being. It’s too bad that the economics of historic preservation are poorly understood, especially among those in power.
That’s why I started Presonomics, a nonprofit organization that promotes the economic benefits of saving historic places. We are working hard to shift the conversation away from traditional preservation evangelism toward the economics of saving places.
The first major project of Presonomics is to build the Presonomics Open Access Repository (POAR, pronounced “pour”)—a free, easy-to-use online resource that houses all economic impact studies related to preservation economics or “presonomics.” This tool will empower community activists with the location-specific evidence they need to convince decision makers of the irreplaceable value of historic places.
If you would like to be a part of this paradigm-shifting movement, please consider donating to Presonomics.
Regardless of your involvement with Presonomics, you can do yourself and your community a favor by remembering that promoting the economic benefits of historic places is the most effective advocacy approach. By working together and pooling our resources I know that we can all get rich off history.
Clint Tankersley is a Georgia attorney specializing in cultural heritage law. Read his bio here.