PennPraxis

Preservation and Change Survey

The goal of historic preservation is frequently framed as “managing change” of historic buildings and places. With increasing regularity, the notion of how the historic preservation field “manages change” of its own practices, assumptions, institutions, and policies has been raised. What kinds of change do preservationists have in mind? What gaps exist between current practices and the exigencies of the moment (or the future)?

To address that abiding question, this report offers a snapshot of attitudes toward change in the historic preservation field, built from the opinions of over 2,000 people connected to the historic preservation community of practice who participated in a survey distributed in late 2020–early 2021.

The survey queried the opinions and experiences of preservation professionals on a variety of topics: which of the issues facing the field are highest priority; the effectiveness of public policies; the role partnerships play for the preservation field; and the diversity of those working in the preservation field. Responses from a couple dozen multiple-choice and Likert-scale questions are presented below; narrative responses to a series of qualitative questions will be the subject of a subsequent report.

A few key findings emerge from the details:

  • The need for substantial change is a matter of consensus—something greater than the gradual evolution that has characterized the field following the institutionalization of historic preservation in the 1960s;
  • Deep divides exist within the preservation community around issues of change—related in complex ways to generational change, the inertia and path-dependence of established ways of thinking about and doing preservation, or what we discern as “traditional” and “progressive” mindsets;
  • Pressures for change are exerted by both internal dynamics in the field and from external forces;
  • Imperatives for change relate to many facets of preservation, including: the diversity of people working in the field, the effectiveness of leadership, the kind of partnerships to be forged, and the role of intangible heritage as a driver of the field.

The goal of this report is to continue conversations taking place in and around the preservation field and open new fronts of thinking. We don’t attempt to draw any conclusions about preservation or preservationists. Rather, this exploration is meant to document opinions and attitudes in the current moment and advance critical self-reflection in all corners of the community of practice devoted to heritage, preservation, and their important functions in contemporary American society.


The 1772 Foundation provided financial support to create and carry out the survey on which this report is based. The Foundation exercised no control over the content or type of the questions, nor over the interpretations contained in this report.

For question about this report or the full data set please contact the authors:

Randall Mason, rfmason@design.upenn.edu

Kaitlyn Levesque, kaitlynl@sas.upenn.edu 

Team

Randall F. Mason, Professor, Historic Preservation/ City & Regional Planning
Kaitlyn Levesque, Research Associate, Lecturer