Historic preservation has a little bit of an image problem. Most everyone knows the stereotype: little old ladies saving the dead white guy's mansion. And from Mount Vernon on down, preservationists have in fact saved more than a few abodes of the rich, famous, Anglo, and deceased.
It is important work, to be sure. Saving, maintaining, and sharing the places involved with major figures and events in American history has a great deal of value. But to think that this is all there is to historic preservation, however, would be to sell it short. Preservation has also become a critically important tool for community development and revitalization.
This type of work was the focus of the tour I took this morning, which was led by the staff of Historic Saint Paul. They showed us several in-process restorations in the Dayton's Bluff and Payne-Phelan areas of east St. Paul, where they are working with lower- and middle-income residents and immigrant communities to use historic preservation as the main tool for revitalizing their neighborhood. Their primary focus is exterior rehabilitation, to improve the streetscape and draw in further investment.
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