Finding out if a building is designated as historic in Philadelphia typically requires calling the Historical Commission. Online preservation resources for the city have been spotty.
But the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia has been working away at creating a new online tool that aims to put preservation information in one place. This month they quietly relaunched PreservePhiladelphia.org, which brings Philly one step closer to knowing its locally designated historic sites and the city’s preservation resources.
Preserve Philadelphia was originally built to be a repository for documents and reports that were produced during the now-dormant citywide preservation plan effort. But Ben Leech, the Preservation Alliance’s advocacy director, said the Alliance realized that their “sister site” could become a broader online resource for preservation in Philadelphia.
With the relalunch of the Preserve Philadelphia, one of my long-time wishes has come true: The new site features a comprehensive (though not “official”) map of all of the thousands of individual properties listed on the Philadelphia Register. (Thanks to Leech’s enterprising adventures in Google Fusion Tables.) There are also maps of locally designated historic districts. Even though the maps are simple they provide a useful layer of information that has otherwise been out of online sight.
The new version of Preserve Philadelphia also has information about how preservation works in the city, types of historic properties, research resources, how to survey and nominate historic places, technical assistance, and funding sources.
Of course, in a perfect world, the Historical Commission would be disseminating this information too. Sadly, given the Commission’s limited resources that kind of outreach is not in the cards at the moment.
Leech told me that the Alliance also hopes to use Preserve Philadelphia as a more active outreach tool. He said the site will host information about neighborhood landmarks gathered through a new outreach program called Pride of Place. It’s a sort of do-it-yourself approach to surveying historic resources, designed to capture places that might not be on the Preservation Alliance’s or Historical Commission’s radar.
“Neighborhoods have their own self-conception of landmarks,” and Leech explained the Alliance wants to help neighborhoods advocate for those places.
I’m excited to see how Preserve Philadelphia grows. Meantime, bravo to Ben Leech for building those maps. They are not fancy, but they’re really handy.