Public Participation in Historic Preservation | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Encouraging Public Participation in Historic Preservation

Chapter 10: Preservation Community Relationships, Page 2 of 5

Public Participation in Historic Preservation | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

As part of its overall approach to preservation within the community, a historic preservation commission should encourage public participation in commission work as much as possible.

Engage the Public

A commission that welcomes and encourages public participation will be more easily accepted and supported throughout the community. If members of the public see that their views and input are respected and encouraged, they will be much more likely to support preservation efforts. 

Tips for Encouraging Public Participation
  • Seek public input into plans and programs
  • Develop a volunteer base
  • Listen to public opinions at commission meetings
  • Invite the public to special events, projects, and programs sponsored by the commission
  • Welcome and engage all members of the public in your activities, and target groups of the community that are underrepresented
  • Develop programs or workshops in neighborhoods throughout the community to discuss preservation issues
  • Listen to all concerns and questions, and avoid seeming elitist
  • Try to organize a core group of individuals from each area to generate more interest within all neighborhoods
  • Visit schools and involve students in historic preservation projects

Educate Community Leaders

Community leaders have a strong influence on how a community progresses, and their decisions have a large impact on preservation concerns. If they are aware of the role preservation plays in the community and are kept informed about the policies and procedures of the commission, they will be better equipped to address preservation concerns and more apt to support the commission and preservation efforts.

To generate and bolster support for historic preservation, commission members need to educate community leaders about the benefits and value of preservation, and about the commission's role and activities.

Identify Key Leaders in the Community
Key leaders are the people who make decisions that have a significant impact on how the community functions and develops. Aside from elected officials, this group includes business owners, property owners, bankers, and leaders of community organizations.
Host Educational Workshops for Community Leaders
The commission should inform community leaders about how preservation impacts the economy and quality of life of the community. Workshops should:

  • Explain the need for quality preservation planning
  • Discuss how preservation planning fits into overall community planning
  • Explain the use of design guidelines
  • Outline available financial incentives for property owners and for the community at large

Build Community Support

To make preservation successful in your community, commission members need to engage the general public to accept and support preservation efforts. Building this support takes time and hinges on education and relationship building.

Make the Case for Support
  • Educate the public (regularly and often) about the importance and benefits of historic preservation
  • Present a positive image of the commission and preservation groups
  • Stay active and generate positive press to place preservation in the public eye as much as possible
  • Take advantage of prominent preservation projects, such as the rehabilitation of a significant building, to demonstrate the importance of its historic resources, bolster pride in the community, and create excitement about future preservation possibilities
  • Hold lectures, give presentations, or create exhibits in easily accessible public places to highlight a project
  • Develop a positive marketing strategy with a noticeable logo and motto, and use them at every opportunity to develop public recognition and familiarity
Educate the Public

Educational programs, workshops, brochures, presentations, lectures, and slideshows can demonstrate the benefits of preserving historic resources. Use these tools to show the value of these resources to the community, and explain the threats to these resources and the consequences of losing them. Give your presentations to a variety of groups, such as local historical societies, social and civic clubs and organizations, the chamber of commerce, and church groups. Education efforts must be continuous to be effective, so develop an ongoing program to address this need.

Offer Financial Incentives

Consider developing financial incentives for preservation projects to encourage preservation activity. Homestead programs and low-interest loans not only help the public to financially manage preservation projects, but can generate long-term commitments and support for preservation. Often such incentives pique the interest of individuals who otherwise might not consider a preservation project.

The impact of these incentives can be far-reaching, because they produce a positive ripple effect. Successful renovation projects are very visible within the community and often encourage rehabilitation of other properties. Also, homeowners and developers who take advantage of financial incentives can quickly spread the word about these benefits.

Track and Promote Benefits

Keep track of and promote the economic benefits your community has enjoyed thanks to the commission's efforts. There are several readily available sources of information in your community to gather economic data. These include:

  • Multiple Listing Services (MLS) from Realtors: Tracks the increases in sales prices and how long properties stay on the market in your historic districts
  • Property Tax Records: Provides data on increases in valuations and assessments in historic districts
  • Building Permit Records: Provides information on the amount of construction activity in your districts and their dollar value
  • Interviews with Property Owners: Offers testimonials on quality-of-life issues and improvements noted in historic districts
  • Statistics on Tax Credit Benefits: Statistics on use of tax credits and the financial benefit receive for properties and districts listed in the State Register or National Register of Historic Places are available from the Wisconsin Historical Society