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Historic Preservation and Community Planning | Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Historic Preservation and Community Planning

Historic Preservation and Community Planning | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeRed Brick building

W.T. Lyle Building, 1890

Waukesha, Wisconsin. Historic preservation is all about promoting community identity. The W.T. Lyle Building is an ornate commercial building that plays an important role in illustrating the history of Waukesha. Source: WHS - State Historic Preservation Office.

Historic preservation is an essential part of community planning in many Wisconsin cities, towns and villages. The historic preservation process is played out in your community through public meetings and the planning process, so each citizen in your community can have a voice. If your community makes a commitment to historic preservation, it can even be a catalyst for downtown and neighborhood revitalization.

Historic Preservation Promotes Community Identity

Historic preservation is all about promoting community identity. Historic preservation offers your community the means to retain its historic and architectural integrity. Your community’s history is made tangible through its buildings, structures and landscapes. This tangible evidence of your community’s history is referred to as the “built environment.”

Preserving the historic built environment helps your community retain its unique character. Any community could match your community’s industrial park, shopping centers and fast food franchises. What sets your community apart is its architectural and historical character. A responsible and visionary community recognizes and celebrates its heritage and promotes it for residents and visitors alike.

Local governments can get help with integrating historic preservation concerns and local planning decisions by participating in the national Certified Local Government (CLG) program.

Historic Preservation Upholds Architectural Integrity

Thousands of communities across Wisconsin and the nation have designated historic districts to prevent the loss of historic and architectural integrity in their built environments. These historic districts are concentrations of buildings that together convey the local history of an area. Many Wisconsin communities have developed design guidelines to help property owners in designated historic districts uphold the architectural integrity of their buildings.

Design guidelines act as a framework for property owners, developers and the local historic preservation commission on matters of appropriate rehabilitation actions and new construction. Design guidelines ensure that rehabilitation and new construction is in keeping with a neighborhood’s existing character, which gives neighborhood residents some control over their neighborhood’s destiny.

Historic Preservation Creates a Legacy of Stewardship

If you own a historic house or commercial building, you have a role in promoting community identity and passing this legacy of stewardship to future owners and generations. Your historic house or building is one component of a street block, which is part of a broader neighborhood. Your neighborhood was established as your community expanded outward during years of growth and prosperity. The story of your neighborhood – when and how it was developed – is intertwined with that of the larger community. This connection that exists between your house or building, your neighborhood and your community creates a context for historic preservation efforts.

This historic context explains why preservation decisions – including yours – affect all residents of your community. If your house is demolished or severely altered from its original appearance, it loses its historic and architectural integrity. The loss or deterioration of one building on a street tends to produce a domino effect. Every loss of a historic building reduces the historic integrity of an area. The loss of many historic buildings can destroy a historic neighborhood.