For years the nation has considered “housing starts” as a sign of economic stability or growth. But, as a preservationist, I’ve always considered this more appropriately to be an indicator of sprawl. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is good that new construction has become an economic indicator – but I don’t understand why it is the only indicator for the construction industry. What about all those projects for major renovation, restoration, or preservation…the “housing re-starts” if you will?
After all, these efforts are the part of the industry that are labor intensive, not relying on new materials as new construction does. Having people working seems to me to be the true reason that construction is an economic indicator – and preservation runs circles around new construction in that regard. And people are not just working, but shopping, spending their pay checks, and helping to drive the local economy. This is the economic indicator that I’m interested in – not that a factory somewhere (likely not in this state and perhaps not even in this county) has made a certain number of goods – but that people are working and doing their part to drive the local economy.
So, what would it take to have the country make this fundamental shift in understanding construction’s TRUE economic impact? How can we get the government and news industry to include the work done by such individuals as architects, carpenters, engineers, and contractors who deal with older or historic properties? What about all the sales made at home improvement stores, architectural salvage centers, or my personal favorite, “rejuvenation catalogs”? Just two home improvement stores (okay, the big ones) each had earnings in 2010 in the billions, one of the worst year’s for the new construction industry in recent memory. That is just the tip of this invisible iceberg when it comes to accounting for the tremendous role that historic preservation, renovation, and restoration efforts have on our local economy. One that I personally believe has been long overlooked.
But, how do preservationists get the rest of the country to recognize this important aspect of economic stability and growth? We have to move beyond preaching to the choir – and start reaching mainstream news. Ideas anyone?
Elaine H. Robinson
The above article is only the thoughts and beliefs of the author and in no way represents the official position of the MHPN. Although, every building illustrated has been restored!