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Social Justice in Historic Preservation

Miami-Dade County’s heritage survey is committed to uncovering and highlighting the stories of those communities who have traditionally been excluded from the historic preservation process. 

Consistent with national trends in historic preservation, the County’s designated historic sites to date are not reflective of our diverse heritage and population. It is the County’s hope that through meaningful community engagement and thoughtful research, sites previously overlooked or unknown will be brought to light. This survey effort is one part of an overall effort to build a more inclusive historic preservation program in Miami-Dade County.

Numerous historic locations, landmarks and buildings serve as the sole, or at the very least, best-preserved, examples of injustice in our country's past. By viewing them through the perspective of social justice, we are able to recognize the organizations, structures and policies that support inequality and determine who is disenfranchised.

To ensure that historic preservation is centered on people, social justice is essential. It challenges the preservation movement to consider critically how it contributes to meeting the needs of all communities, especially those with bitterly contested pasts. It places the historic preservationist in a lifelong process of standing up for historically excluded communities. In the end, it aims to enable underrepresented people and communities to speak out and advocate for themselves, pursuing the chance to thrive.

Environmental justice is a movement that can inform historic preservation by incorporating social justice. Environmental justice is the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Preservation may reduce inequalities at the local and national levels as it relates to preservation laws, regulation and policies. Policies and systems that support identity-based injustices must be addressed if historic preservation is to be engaged with social justice. Such activism could entail revisiting preservation laws that disproportionately omit locations connected to historically excluded communities. Additionally, preservation should not confine the justifications for historic relevance to one perspective, or have an overreliance on architecture, understanding that culture and history are also important in defining spaces important to communities.

Community survival, empowerment and identity should all be emphasized as part of preservation. Even in the context of purportedly inclusive place-making, preservationists must be willing to explore the ways that power and privilege distort our perceptions of ourselves and other groups, and also seek to embrace the model of place-keeping. Contextualizing buildings and places within more significant, occasionally challenging issues is necessary for systemically resolving inequities in the neighborhood.

When it comes to preservation, social justice involves making a personal as well as professional commitment to fighting against systems of inequity. This commitment will have a positive impact on society. As public servants, the Office of Historic Preservation is committed to pursuing equity in our preservation program for the benefit of all citizens.