Yesterday, in Detroit’s Lower Eastside, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Jefferson-Chalmers District a National Treasure. This designation by the nation’s leading preservation organization marks the first National Treasure in the state of Michigan and represents the first project under the National Trust’s new ReUrbanism initiative.
“Jefferson-Chalmers is Detroit’s diamond in the rough—and we’re excited to bring our expertise and national spotlight to the great work happening here,” said David J. Brown, executive vice president and chief preservation officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Not only do the buildings have the reuse potential to move Detroit forward, but revitalization of this historic neighborhood also has a lot to teach the rest of the country.”
The National Trust will work with city officials, residents, the business community and other stakeholders to bring increased capacity and pinpoint the best rehabilitation and reuse strategies to ensure Jefferson Chalmers’ older buildings evolve into assets that meet the 21st century needs of the community. Additionally, the National Treasures’ designation carries the full weight of the National Trust’s successful urban revitalization strategies, complemented by two of its programs playing roles in the city: 1) Preservation Green Lab’s Partnership for Building Reuse, a recent study focused on Detroit-specific barriers to building reuse that offers solutions to help realize the development potential of its older buildings; and 2) the National Main Street Center’s Refresh pilot program, a program to test new strategies and refine approaches for creating successful main streets.
“The City of Detroit is committed to innovative approaches that inspire the reuse and restoration of older buildings throughout its neighborhoods,” said Kimberly Driggins, director of strategic planning for the city of Detroit. “We are enthusiastic to work with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Jefferson East and the residents and businesses in Jefferson-Chalmers as we embrace new opportunities and conversations on the road to revitalization.”
As the National Trust’s new partners in Jefferson-Chalmers are demonstrating, preservation is about more than just keeping historic buildings in active use—it is also about managing positive change through direct community engagement that positions the needs and concerns of people at the center of the work.
“Jefferson-Chalmers is full of outstanding assets which will strengthen the restoration efforts, including its location and intact commercial structures,” said Josh Elling, executive director for Jefferson East, Inc. “Through past hardship, engaged residents and business owners—the neighborhood’s biggest assets—have held together, maintained hope and crafted a vision to bring the neighborhood back to being a place where everyone thrives.”
Today’s event also codified the National Trust’s decades long involvement in the revitalization of cities across the country with the announcement of its ReUrbanism initiative, which positions preservation in the larger context of human needs as an essential element to creating the health and well-being of residents in communities, among other critical needs.
“It’s about putting people first, and using the remarkable powers of preservation and creative reuse to spur economic growth to help solve the problems neighborhoods and cities face today, and position them for an even brighter future,” said David Brown. “We believe that reuse should be the standard bearer for urban regeneration and that the demolition of historic places always the option of last resort.”
“It is an honor to see years of advocacy coming together in this great moment of naming the Jefferson-Chalmers District a National Treasure,” said Nancy Finegood, executive director for Michigan Historic Preservation Network, the organization first responsible for bringing Jefferson-Chalmers to the National Trust’s attention. “Our focus is to grow the capacity and number of single-family homes we can restore each year, but equally important is the number of local residents who benefit from the work as we move forward.”
Jefferson-Chalmers District joins a growing portfolio of irreplaceable, diverse places—from ancient sites to modern monuments—that have been designated National Treasures. Learn more at: savingplaces.org/jefferson-chalmers-district.