APA Historic and Cultural Resources Policy Update

Planning, Preservation, & Change

Updating APA's Historic and Cultural Resources Policies

Given our communities' changing needs over the years, APA's official policies and advocacy positions on historic and cultural resources may no longer reflect current thinking, emerging planning concerns, and policy priorities. The APA Urban Design and Preservation Division (UDPD) and Legislative Policy Committee (LPC) are exploring preservation planning policy updates to more effectively advocate for federal and state action as planners deal with the intersection of planning, preservation, and change in our built environment.

Our approach to updating APA's policies and positions will consider historic and cultural resources through the lenses of housing production and affordability, zoning and regulatory reform, climate change and the environment, hazard mitigation, economic and community development, and equity.

APA has several ways of representing the Association's official position on critical planning issues and providing tools for planners to advocate for these policies at the state and federal levels. These approaches range from board-adopted comment letters and general policy principles to more comprehensive policy guides. The APA Policy Guide on Historic and Cultural Resources, adopted by the APA Board of Directors in 1987, was last updated in 1997.

Join us as we explore opportunities for historic and cultural preservation to contribute to solving today's planning challenges!

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May is National Preservation Month! Join us for two Historic Preservation webinars on May 3 and May 31 to kick off the policy update!


Preservation is Part of the Solution

"Since about 40 percent of America's buildings are at least 50 years old, we agree that the housing shortage is not a problem America can build its way out of solely through new construction. Preservation and rehabilitation can and must be part of the affordable housing solution." -- Comment letter to the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation from APA President Angela Brooks, Nov. 11, 2023

Over the years, preservation planning efforts have broadened from primarily focusing on protecting architectural form, details, and materiality to embracing our changing societal needs, such as highlighting our cultural resources to promote diversity and inclusion through storytelling in public places. Thoughtful rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of our nation's older building stock are crucial in producing housing across all price ranges and maintaining a neighborhood's culture and distinctiveness. Preservation has already catalyzed local economic development and cultural tourism through the popular Main Street America program.

The U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has recently aligned historic and cultural preservation policy opportunities with critical planning issues. The ACHP adopted new federal policy statements addressing historic preservation's role in housing and climate change. Our Division worked with the APA Legislative Policy Committee and drafted a letter signed by APA President Angela Brooks supporting the draft ACHP housing policy statement in November 2023.

In addition, UDPD partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation (Trust) and the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions (NAPC) to explore the intersection of planning, preservation, and change through webinars, in-person conference panels, and other collaborations.

Advocating for Preservation Planning

"Promote excellence in design. Conserve and preserve the integrity and heritage of the natural and built environment. Use principles of sustainability and resilience as guiding influences in our work." -- American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Code of Ethics.

Using the general framework of the APA's policy priorities and ACHP's modernized national policy statements, updating APA's Historic and Cultural Resources policies will encourage all planners to align and incorporate historic and cultural resources into their broader planning agendas and advocacy efforts. Many local planning departments staff their landmark commissions or work closely with independent landmark agencies and stakeholders. Local decision-makers--elected officials, planning directors, landmark preservation board members, and planning commissioners--need new approaches to fulfill their stewardship responsibilities as they balance preservation and change given their community's specific planning policy priorities.

Legislative and administrative actions at the federal and state levels can influence the effectiveness of preservation planning in achieving broader planning goals, such as using tax credits to incentivize rehabilitation and adaptive reuse or meeting building environmental performance goals. Federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, and the application of federal standards and guidance, such as the Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation, significantly shape preservation planning activities at all levels.

Maximizing the opportunity to reuse, rehabilitate, and preserve our historic assets more effectively and efficiently requires all parties to exercise flexibility, collegiality, common sense, and creativity to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. This approach to decision-making and advocacy can help us meet our obligations to consider and minimize the impact on our historic assets while ensuring that other policy goals can be achieved.

Meeting Today's Challenges

By organizing around today's critical planning themes, the APA policy update should encourage decision-makers at the federal, state, and local levels - who are often not preservationists - to incorporate historic and cultural preservation considerations and opportunities as they balance competing planning needs. To keep us focused on the relationship between planning and preservation, technical landmark preservation issues and positions are best left to expert organizations like the Association for Preservation Technology, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions, and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.

Housing Production and Affordability – We cannot simply build our way out of an affordable housing crisis through new construction. Since 40% of our building stock is over 50 years old, preservation should be considered a solution. Building upon the APA President's comment letter to the ACHP, our effort should provide general planning guidance to preserve older housing stock through thoughtful rehabilitation and adaptive reuse to offer a range of housing types and price levels.

Zoning and Regulatory Reform – APA encourages local review and update of land-use regulations to increase housing production, such as converting offices to residential use or modernizing older housing stock, and to address other community planning needs. This effort should explore the impact of federal and state preservation laws and regulations and their relationship with local preservation codes, comprehensive planning, and zoning. This can help planners identify appropriate tools they can tailor to address their local needs without sacrificing important preservation principles when considering changes to zoning, landmarks, or building codes and advocating positions on federal and state actions that can affect local planning and preservation activities.

Climate Change and the Environment — Preserving older buildings is an inherently sustainable solution through embodied carbon reduction, waste reduction, and other environmental benefits. To help our historic buildings become even more environmentally friendly, policies could encourage modern regulations and guidance to incorporate renewable energy (e.g., solar panels) and emerging energy efficiency measures that can be sensitively and efficiently incorporated into historic fabric.

Hazard Mitigation —The policy update will address protecting our most important historic resources from heat, flooding, fires, and storms due to climate change so they can exist for future generations. States, regions, and communities are engaging in comprehensive hazard mitigation planning, and protecting these critical historic and cultural assets needs to be considered and prioritized as federal and state resources become available.

Economic and Community Development — Historic and cultural resources have often served as the foundation for local and regional revitalization efforts. As communities recover from the pandemic’s economic impacts and look for solutions, the policy update should encourage opportunities to facilitate resources and attention to programs such as the Main Streets America program, locally sponsored downtown and neighborhood revitalization of historic districts and public spaces through rehabilitation and adaptive reuse, and cultural tourism.

Equity: Diversity, Inclusion, and Representation — Preservation and storytelling are not the sole province of the rich and elite. Preservation, in a planning context, is a tool to promote equitable and inclusionary placemaking, community building, and cultural tourism. There are opportunities to focus more resources on and attention to stories of groups, people, and places that have been overlooked and marginalized. Inclusive preservation encourages sensitively adapting historic buildings for accessibility through federal, state, and local regulations.

Ways to Get Involved

The APA policy update process will take over a year. We're seeking APA members and other subject matter experts to participate in several different capacities, such as helping us craft policy principles, serving on a working group focused on a specific issue (e.g., affordable housing), researching and drafting parts of the update, and commenting on drafts.

Working with the APA Legislative Policy Committee, the APA Urban Design and Preservation Division will lead the effort as subject matter experts. The APA LPC and Board of Directors will ultimately determine how these policy proposals relate to the APA's broader advocacy agenda and the best ways to implement these policies. The updated policies, if adopted, represent the official APA position on Historic and Cultural resources. We seek the involvement of all APA members and our partners.

Please complete our contact form if you want to participate. If you have questions, send us an email!

I'd Like to Participate


Project Resources

APA Policy Guide on Historic and Cultural Resources (Adopted 1997)


The Relevancy Guidebook: How We Can Transform the Future of Preservation

by Bonnie McDonald, CEO and President, Landmark Illinois

Register for the May 3 UDPD Webinar with Bonnie McDonald

Planning, Preservation and Change: The Federal Perspective

Register for the May 31 UDPD Webinar with Sara Bronin, Chair, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation


Planning, Preservation & Change: Part I Webinar, How Planning and Preservation Can Work Together to Create Great Places


Planning, Preservation & Change: Part 2 Webinar, An Effective Planning Tool


Affordable Housing and Historic Preservation: Opportunities in 2024 (National Trust for Historic Preservation Forum)


ACHP Housing and Historic Preservation Policy Statement

Read Policy Statement

Read APA Comment Letter on Draft ACHP Housing and Historic Preservation Policy Statement


ACHP Climate Change and Historic Preservation Policy Statement

Read Policy Statement


ACHP Chair’s Report: Reviewing and Modernizing Federal Historic Preservation Standards

Read Chair's Report