Track 4: Diversity, Population Change, and Gentrification in the Preservation Dialogue
The need for skilled artisans in historic preservation trades is growing. Studies have shown that half of traditional tradesmen are over the age of 45, and with retirements looming, there is an impending shortage of skilled and experienced contractors. San Antonio, Texas, one of four UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country, has some of the most skilled trade practitioners in the state. Those skills, however, may be lost without the opportunity to hand these legacy skills and traditions over to the next generation.
In direct response to this pressing challenge, the City of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) has created several initiatives focused on the transference of heritage trades skills and knowledge through hands-on workshops and similar training opportunities. For example, OHP has launched the Rehabber Club initiative, a free, inclusive network of do-it-yourselfers, craftsmen, contractors, historic homeowners, realtors, and everyday citizens dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of San Antonio’s historic resources. The Rehabber Club frequently organizes and hosts hands-on workshops led by volunteer contractors and skilled tradespeople with the goal of disseminating knowledge and empowering homeowners with the information they need to better understand the skills required to maintain their historic homes. Our most popular course is our wood window workshop, which makes a seemingly complex trade highly accessible to laypeople through a hybrid lecture-workshop event. As a result, at least three local wood window restoration businesses have launched in the past two years. Additionally, OHP is in the process of developing a Traditional Trades Academy with the goal of partnering with local educational institutions to create an alternative career path for high school and university-level students.
By offering training opportunities for localized heritage trades, San Antonio is creating a larger pool of next-generation tradespeople in an effort to retain significant historic building fabric; add new labor income into the local economy; and reduce the likelihood of wholesale replacement of materials, which can reduce dependency on new raw goods and low-durability products. Increasing the availability of skilled tradespeople also allows for the increased affordability of repair work, which limits the burden of maintenance on marginalized communities. This presentation will provide insight into OHP’s real-world solutions to include diverse communities in the historic preservation discussion through hands-on educational workshops and trainings, and outline steps and strategies for developing similar programs that can be scaled up or down for different communities. This topic also fits into the broader, urgent discussion surrounding gentrification and its impact on historic structures, communities, and landscapes, and how local and state entities can help formulate forward-thinking policy directives that place heritage conservation at the forefront of sustainable planning and neighborhood continuity.