Friday, July 24, 2009

Unstable Streetscapes

In 1980 Mary Means initiated and directed the Main Street program for the National Trust for Historic Preservation[1].This program focused on the importance of the historic interconnection between buildings, rather than on individual historic properties. Buildings lived and worked in concert with each other and it began to make sense that preservation of connected collections of buildings was important for sustained revitalization. The program established a “four-point approach[2]”for successful implementation.


This is the most difficult element of the process and generally needs to be under a single “umbrella organization.”


The streetscape project needs to promote itself by providing reasons for people to visit an exciting and revitalized area.


This is a highly visible element of the process, signaling to the community that something very different is happening.

Economic Restructuring

Local banks, particularly when working collectively can provide financial support for it is now well recognized that revitalized properties are good for business.

In addition to the “four-point approach” for preservation of streetscapes through Main Street programs, the NTHP outlined a further eight principles that it felt were also important for successful implementation.

1. Comprehensiveness: - the project needs to involve more than isolated buildings that do not have any connection with each other. It needs to be an ongoing process.

2. Incrementation: - small early projects are important to encourage others and also to increase the ability of the organizations involved to tackle larger projects

3. Self-help: - local leadership is important to sustain the initiatives, even though much help can be obtained through the National Main Street Center in Washington D.C.

4. Public-private partnership: - this is pivotal

5. Identification and capitalization on existing assets: -clarification of the uniqueness of the locale to help guide revitalization

6. Quality: - high quality must be a major focus in design, promotion and execution.

7. Change: - influencing the prevailing community attitudes is important, as the Main Street program shifts public preconceptions

8. Action orientation: - recognition of the value of visible change to remind the community of the vitality of the program

Tyler [2] in Historic Preservation importantly identified several reasons why Main Street programs sometimes fail in communities.

· “The project manager was not working full time and could not follow through on initiatives.”

· “Some downtown groups were unhappy with the new show in town and sabotaged efforts of the Main Street project office.”

· “The Board of Directors tried to accommodate too many groups and became too large and unwieldy.”[3]

Historic preservation is “good for business” and good for the vigor of communities. Awareness of the steps in the process, principles and reasons for failure as outlined above is valuable and vital for the success of initiatives. The work that is happening today along 9th Street NW and 7thStreet NW in Washington D.C.[4]is destined to succeed, given adherence to the advice offered by the NTHP National Main Street Center - an organization that since its inception has garnered over $11 billion in private and public investment, rehabilitated over60,000 buildings and created over 174,000 new jobs.

[1] National Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20036 (

[2] In Historic Preservation - an introduction to its history principles and practice by Norman Tyler, W.W. Norton & Company, 2000

[3] Historic Preservation pages 174 - 176

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