Historic preservation is an investment in the community
Muncie has a rich cultural and architectural history which is manifested in its landscape. These structures are resources and like any other resource need to be preserved and sometimes rehabilitated. There are those who see the investment in historic preservation as a luxury, not a necessary investment. Don’t make mistakes; it is an investment not only in individual structures, but in the community.
The benefits of preserving and restoring historic properties are numerous. Our community is richly diverse and this diversity is expressed through time in the historic landscape of Muncie. By preserving and restoring this landscape, we are also reviving the culture that originally built it. It tells the story of our community, of prosperous times and events, and of those that were difficult.
Historic preservation has repeatedly been an effective agent in stabilizing neighborhoods and combating the scourge. By revitalizing historic neighborhoods, we are beautifying these neighborhoods. The stabilization of neighborhoods discourages crime. Recovering them from the scourge avoids the risk of fire that too many buildings have already suffered.
Unfortunately, where there is great diversity, there is also great division. Historic preservation advances the sense of community by cultivating pride, belonging and therefore the advancement of the issue in our neighborhoods and our city. It brings us together and encourages further historic embellishment of our great American tradition of neighborhood competition.
Preservation efforts provide our students with the opportunity for immersive learning in the assessment, planning and restoration of historic places. Bringing opposing views on preservation together and overcoming the unforeseen in the process are invaluable lessons that can only enrich students.
Our community acquires a vehicle to learn about our history and past architectural styles. By determining the importance of previous owners or architecture, curators engage in a lesson in real-world history. Often this lesson is not limited to public records or inventories of structures, but to stories transmitted locally. This is an opportunity not only for all of us to participate, but also to work to bridge the often referred to as “city and dress” divide.
These are just a few of the intrinsic values that can be found in historic preservation efforts. This practice can also have great economic impacts. Preservation creates a demand for labor from the need for research, design and construction. This creates a demand for the materials needed during the process. In doing so, preservation efforts inject money that has a ripple effect, creating localized economic impetus in different sectors of our local economy.
Historical embellishment can promote tourism. These historic sites act as a source destination for tourists. The tourism industry can generate income for any community that can operate it properly. Travelers inject more money into our local economy when they visit our restaurants and shops.
By investing in historical preservation, we increase the estimated value of the structure. Restoration efforts to save structures from the scourge once again allow them to contribute to our property tax revenues. As these structures become tax-generating again or see their contributions increase, they offer a municipality more opportunities to invest in schools, services, infrastructure and other preservation efforts.
Historic structures are also the greenest of the structures around. They are already built and are for a time before modern equipment like air conditioning. They exist in areas where there is already infrastructure, so there is no need to expand the infrastructure for them. As architect Carl Elefante said, “The greenest building is the one already built. “
Resurrecting Muncie’s historic landscape beautifies, enriches and unites the community while promoting green economic growth. It’s difficult and expensive, but the benefits are well worth it. While this is only an introduction to the benefits of historic preservation, we hope it will initiate a dialogue on how to better preserve monuments in our community.
(A version of this column was originally published in 2013.)
Brad King is the Historic Preservative for the City of Muncie