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Controversial Building Project? History Can Help You Win People Over

Those of you who are developers, architects, lawyers, bankers, municipal administrators, or economic development professionals of one stripe or another know exactly what I mean by the words “controversial
building project.” In fact, all of us who are active citizens in our community are aware of the public wrangling that takes place over a new office building, a new senior center, or the demolition of a treasured structure.

After public hearings have been held, decisions have been made, and a project is moving forward, then the question becomes: How do we get the community to rally behind the project and smooth some of those ruffled feathers?

I submit that local history can help!

Whatever the project is, public, private, or both, you could:

• Form a History Advisory Committee to examine ways in which the project could honor local history. Send out a press release announcing the committee members. If at least one of your detractors (someone with influence over others) can serve on the committee, you’re ahead of the game. Other members could be your local historian, library director, historical society director, museum curator, the head of your preservation organization, history professor from your local college –  you will know who to ask.

• Have the committee work with the architect and developer to identify how local history can be incorporated into the project. Interior décor?
Exterior design? Naming opportunities?

• Have the committee hold public meetings to seek public input on who and what they would like to see honored. You will immediately start to win people over. You don’t have to promise anything, just listen.

• Publicize what the committee is doing, and present a uniform “front” that everyone involved in the project wants to honor local history.

These are four simple yet transformational steps that could completely turn hard feelings into creative, positive energy working in your favor.

And I am not making this up! I have been involved in just this kind of work, including the construction of a park on the site of a demolished, burned-out but much-loved building in a historic town and a nonprofit
organization taking up residence in what some people hoped would be a commercial site.

I am not taking sides here but, again, after decisions have been made and a project is moving forward, it is in the best interest of any community for the healing to begin.

Let local history be that remedy!


2010 © Bonnie Hurd Smith

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"These are four simple yet transformational
steps that could completely turn hard feelings
into creative, positive energy working in your