Should the Suburbs be Considered for Historic Preservation?

2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act and the subsequent National Register of Historic Places. The goal of the act was to preserve buildings and places that were significant historically or culturally. Places must meet certain criteria in order to be added to the National Register. Recently, historic preservation has become a part of the effort to reduce urban sprawl, as most historic buildings are located within the already-existing boundaries of the city. Some preservationists have noted that current economic and development trends may actually be eliminated historic places – specifically, the suburbs.

The suburbs arose in the 1950’s and 60’s during a pattern of metropolitan development that saw the decline of the “central city” and a growth in the suburban areas. The automobile played a huge role in this trend. More and more families were able to afford cars and federal programs promoted highway and road construction, and so the “commuter” was born. Today, in many cities the pattern of growth may be reversing. Millennials and baby boomers are increasingly seeking residence in more densely populated areas, which provide more entertainment and social opportunities. As environmental concerns lead some people to drive less and rely more on public transportation or shorter commutes, the suburbs become inconvenient. These trends are leading some to believe that the suburbs will eventually become the slums of the future. As they are replaced, some buildings will be lost.

The National Register currently includes over a million properties. Eligibility as a “historic place” involves meeting two primary prerequisites: the place must be 50 plus years old, and must retain the physical integrity for the time it was built (or the time for which it is considered “significant”). Additionally, the place must meet at least one of the following criteria: it must contribute to a major pattern in American history, be associated with an important or historical person, the architecture or construction must be distinctive in some way, or it must possess informational potential (for instance archaeological samples).

Since places must be at least 50 years old to qualify for the Historic Register, every year there are new places that could potentially be added to the list. Currently, this includes many suburban homes.

Do you think the suburbs should be designated as “historic places”? What makes a place historic, in your opinion? Leave a comment then share this post with friends on Facebook and Twitter, don’t forget to tag Real Property Management.


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