Shelley Smith

Shelley Smith

As the month of May comes to a close, take the time this weekend to celebrate National Historic Preservation Month. Preservation Month began as National Preservation Week in 1973 and was expanded to the entire month of May in 2005. While you may not be able to visit certain historic sites in person due to the pandemic, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate our nation’s historic and cultural resources. Included below are some tips from the national organization Preservation Action to make the most of the final days of Preservation Month:

Go on a virtual tour. Historic sites and parks across the country are offering virtual tours. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is unlocking new digital experiences every day in May, allowing you to virtually explore some incredible historic sites.

Explore Tullahoma’s historic neighborhoods. If you can, get outside and take a walk or bike ride around each of Tullahoma’s five historic districts. Who knows? You might stumble upon some hidden gems. Take the time to not only notice the historic architecture, but the grid layout of the streets as well. All American cities grew in the form of a grid until about 1950 when the grid system was abandoned almost all at once in favor of automobile-dominated development patterns. Many communities across the country are now taking steps to return to the historic grid pattern of city development.

One notable example is Bastrop, Texas, a community that is similar in size to Tullahoma and one of the first municipalities in America to re-establish a street grid pattern of development citywide. The award-winning new Bastrop Building Block Code (B3) uses a street grid with the goal of both environmental and fiscal sustainability. According to noted planner Robert Steutville, the innovative code focuses on the most essential elements of city building: using limited regulations to promote timeless, adaptable places that respond to the natural environment while also promoting fiscal sustainability.

As Steutville explained in a recent article published in the journal Public Square, “The B3 Code is organized by building type, street type, and place type. The mix and types of buildings and uses can vary block by block and street by street. The 330-foot-by-330-foot street grid, based on the city’s historic pattern, establishes the framework for the B3 Code, which does not have minimum lot standards. This characteristic entices builders to produce a wide range of housing types, with varied sizes and costs. The code supports property rights by loosening regulations in the second and third layers of a lot (the rear) and by defaulting to the current International Building Codes for all building standards and setbacks. The code promotes fiscal sustainability through the formation of local urban cores, mixed commercial and residential uses, and a variation in housing types to include small-scale multifamily.”

Moreover, the code is designed to reduce construction and ongoing maintenance costs—a win-win for developers and residents alike. Take the time to contemplate Balstrop’s bold move as you enjoy the walkability that is inherent in the street grid pattern of Tullahoma’s historic neighborhoods.

Advocate for historic preservation. You can still advocate for critical historic preservation programs for our community from your own home. Congress is currently considering economic recovery legislation. Urge your Representatives and Senators to support historic preservation programs that help to stimulate the economy as part of future coronavirus relief and recovery efforts. Preservation Action, The National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, and more than 30 other organizations recently joined together to send a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committee requesting $120 million for the Historic Preservation Fund, including:

• $30 million to support survey and digitization for State Historic Preservation Officers and $15 million for Tribal Historic Preservation Officers.

• $75 million for Certified Local Governments to support brick and mortar projects.

Funding for survey and digitization is critical to make sure that historic resources are protected, while at the same time guaranteeing that important infrastructure projects are not delayed. Funding for Certified Local Governments will provide much needed economic stimulus directly to local communities while preserving historic resources that help to provide a sense of place and stability for communities.

PlaceEconomics, a private sector consulting firm that focuses on the economic impact of historic preservation, recently released a new report on the important role investing in older housing could play in creating more resilient neighborhoods in the post COVID-19 world. The report argues that future economic recovery efforts should have multiple impacts: COVID-19 recovery, stimulate the economy, address the affordable housing crisis, build resilient systems, and invest in long-term assets. Investing in older housing ticks all of those boxes. Take the time to read the PlaceEconomics report, “Reinvesting in Older Housing – A Key Component of Post COVID-19 Resiliency” over the weekend and share your thoughts with legislators. You can also visit Preservation Action’s webpage to find and share the historic preservation assistance request letter, preservation community letter, and be sure to read up on the “Historic Tax Credit Economic Stimulus Request Talking Points” while you are there.

To learn more about what is happening in Tennessee to celebrate Preservation Month, a great resource to check out is the Tennessee Historical Commission’s Facebook Page, where you can also find a link to the new Tennessee Historic Preservation Plan 2019-2029.

Finally, another great way to celebrate Preservation Month is by making a donation to any of the organizations that work to preserve our built heritage at the national level, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation or Preservation Action.

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