“We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us.”
– Winston Churchill

Pictured above: Omaha/Council Bluffs metro successes from left to right – the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, The Paxton, The Rose, The Squirrel Cage Jail and The Blackstone.

In the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro, the story of historic preservation is a series of seemingly individual wins and losses. A new effort launched by Omaha by Design is coordinating a regional approach to the conservation, preservation and restoration of historic structures and districts in the river cities.

In the fall of 2010, Omaha by Design convened the Conservation, Preservation and Restoration (CPR) Committee to begin looking at what role the organization could play in augmenting existing efforts in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro. The goal, which stems from the Civic Omaha section of the Urban Design Element, is to breathe new life into the region’s built heritage by analyzing the existing environment and developing an appropriate set of strategies for programs, projects and policies that promote its conservation, preservation and restoration.

In February 2011, Omaha by Design hosted an introductory meeting of more than 20 local groups, both public and private, involved in some facet of historic preservation. Each group was asked to share its mission, challenges and opportunities.

Following feedback and further discussion, the need for a coordinated assessment of the local environment and its capacity for historic preservation was identified. Omaha by Design – in partnership with the Iowa West Foundation – has contracted with the Mountains/Plains Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to conduct the assessment.

In mid-May, a team from the National Trust’s Mountains/Plains Office arrived in Omaha to conduct a series of in-person interviews and focus groups with individuals and organizations involved in historic preservation. In addition, the team developed an online polling tool to solicit feedback from a larger audience. The assessment, available here, includes assistance with developing an implementation action plan for specific recommendations related to programs, projects and policies.

Members of the assessment team are Amy Cole, senior program officer and regional attorney, the National Trust’s Mountains/Plains Office; Jim Lindberg, director of preservation initiatives, the National Trust’s Mountains/Plains Office; and Jennifer Sandy, program officer, the National Trust’s Midwest Office.

For more information about the effort, contact Omaha by Design at 402.934.7055 or info@omahabydesign.org. For more information about the National Trust, visit www.preservationnation.org.