December Forum Focus and Putting the Right in Rightsizing

Posted on: December 20th, 2012 by Special Contributor 1 Comment

coverThe Michigan Historic Preservation Network (MHPN) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) have just released “Putting the Right in Rightsizing: A Historic Preservation Case Study,” published by the Michigan Historic Preservation Network (MHPN) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP). Prepared by preservation specialist Brenna Moloney, this study outlines lessons learned during her two years working closely
with the cities of Saginaw and Lansing, Mich., and makes recommendations for these and other American cities that are undergoing the rightsizing process.The Preservation Leadership Forum blog welcomes Nancy Finegood, executive director of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network who writes about this report below.

And as our final Forum Focus for the year we've taken a  look at that case study, pulling out trends and best practices for other cities in the country.

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On Rightsizing: A Tale of Two Cities
by Nancy Finegood

In an era where some cities are facing high unemployment and shrinking tax bases, city planners and policy makers are no longer focused on growth. Instead they are working to responsibly manage contraction.  This process has come to be called rightsizing.  Whether undertaken deliberately or allowed to happen organically, rightsizing will inevitably have consequences for historic preservation.

These consequences demand innovative responses, best explored and tested with real “boots on the ground” in targeted areas. In response to this concern over seemingly unchecked loss of historic building fabric, in the fall of 2010, the NTHP and the MHPN created a preservation specialist position in the cities of Saginaw and Lansing.  At the time, both communities were undergoing some form of rightsizing planning.

This is a proactive approach. Rather than strident advocacy that reinforces the all-too-common perception that historic preservation is an obstacle to progress and an unrealistic response to a chronic problem, this approach is to offer assistance to the officials engaged in the very activity preservationists fear and detest. By  helping  planners and city officials understand that preservation can contribute to the rightsizing process by expediting demolition for properties too far deteriorated to warrant rehab, by focusing on quality neighborhoods approaching a tipping point, and by educating and demonstrating the incentives and techniques of historic preservation as a tool of neighborhood revitalization, preservation is seen as a positive contributor to smaller but smarter communities renewed by their historic resources that give them a distinctive character and identity.

The case study is designed for use by a broad audience across numerous disciplines (preservation, planning, municipal governments, community development corporations, etc.) to aide them in their efforts to incorporate historic preservation principles into rightsizing planning. The experiences in Lansing and Saginaw are intended to contribute to the growing knowledge base of information related to historic preservation and rightsizing. The case study provides a unique perspective on the issue that insists not only on well-laid plans but also on community involvement at every step of the process. Finally, this case study is intended to serve as a preliminary guide for historic preservation planning and advocacy in other cities across the country where rightsizing conversations are occurring.

Electronic versions of the case study are available right now on the MHPN website.  A limited number of printed copies are also available by sending a request to Forum Members can access the December 2012 Forum Focus here.

The work in Saginaw and Lansing was made possible by grants from the Americana Foundation and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority/Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.


Forum Benefit, Planning, Sustainability

One Response

  1. Gretchen Cochran

    December 27, 2012

    Dear Nancy: Preservation Lansing, one of the outcomes of Brenna Moloney’s terrific work in Lansing, is in need of further help. We created an awards program funded by a Michigan Association of Realtors’ Grant, a Facebook page which at its peak had 800 subscribers, and have attracted attention as a pressure group for sustainability. Now we must decide what to do next. We need help. Might you and any others sit down with the Preservation Lansing core group and help us plot our direction? MHN helped birth us and for that we are grateful. Please help us now take our next baby steps.