National Park Service
Heritage Preservation Services   —   Historic Preservation Planning Program
Phoenix, Arizona Bird's Eye View, 1885

Planning Companion

Typical Planning Process
Introduction »

Planning & Historic Contexts  »

Comprehensive? »

scale »

scope »

Step 1.
Planning for Planning »

Step 2.
Creating a Vision »

Step 3.
Understanding the Resources

Step 4.
Other Planning Factors »

Step 5.
Issues and Opportunities »

Step 6.
Goals and Objectives »

Step 7.
Implementation Strategies »

Step 8.
Producing the Plan »

Step 9.
Implementating the Plan »

Step 10.
Revising the Plan »

Sources of
Information »

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A Typical Planning Process

Step 3. What Do We Know About the Historic and Cultural Resources in Our Planning Area?

A fundamental element of preservation planning is assessing what is known, and what is not known, about historic and cultural resources in the planning area. Ideally, preservation planning looks at all historic and cultural resources in the area, not just one type, because multiple types are likely to be present.

It's very difficult to protect valued heritage resources if surveys and assessments haven't identified what resources are important and why. Therefore, the plan should discuss all kinds of resources that may exist, including historic buildings, structures, sites, and landscapes; prehistoric (or precontact) and historic archaeological resources; and traditional cultural places. It may be useful to distinguish between general types of heritage resources and specific "property types," as shown in the examples in the chart below.

The public and stakeholders may also value other types of heritage, such as archives and museum collections, and traditional cultural practices, language, music, and dance. The plan should discuss the preservation of these resources as well, so their preservation can also be established as public policy through the preservation plan.

General Types
of Resources

Examples of
Property Types


Queen Anne houses
Grist mills
Tobacco warehouses


Metal truss bridges


Statues, Boundary markers

Sites, such as
    Prehistoric archeology
    Historical archeology
    Designed landscapes
    Vernacular landscapes


Camps, quarries, petroglyphs
Potteries, mills, houses
Parks, cemeteries
Battlefields, agricultural

Districts (combinations of
the above)

Multiple types

Traditional cultural places
(combinations of the above)

Multiple types

Underwater resources

Multiple types

And, if these are important to the public and stakeholders:

  • Traditional practices, language, arts, music, and dance
  • Traditional subsistence activities and associated flora and fauna
  • Archives and museum collections

Discussing the range of resource types in a planning area can be a very powerful planning approach, because buildings, structures, sites, archeological resources, and landscapes are interrelated cultural features that often exist together on and in the land. The resources listed in the chart above did not exist in historical, cultural, or physical isolation from one another. All could share the same prehistory and/or history; they represent – and reflect – the planning area's past.

When separate preservation plans are developed for each resource type, these multiple plans can create challenges for making effective decisions, providing useful guidance, and communicating preservation policy clearly. When such a situation results in some resources being overlooked, those resources could, inadvertently, be damaged.

A preservation plan that focuses only on historic buildings, for example, may pay inadequate attention to the preservation needs of adjacent archaeological resources and historic landscapes that may reflect the history of those buildings. Not only could these separate plans duplicate a lot of information (such as historical background, goals, and protective strategies), but they could also make plan implementation cumbersome. Further, goals and objectives in separate plans could be incompatible or inconsistent with each other, inadvertently promoting actions that could damage the archaeological and landscape evidence of the buildings’ past.

Because preservation and land-use decisions relate to specific physical places, it is critical that the preservation plan be place-based and address all the historic and cultural resources that co-exist in the same place in a unified manner.

Resource Information Needed for Planning

The majority of historic and cultural resource information used in preservation planning is derived from historic contexts that have been developed using the guidance in The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Preservation Planning. See Planning & Historic Contexts in the left-hand menu for additional information.

It is not necessary to conduct a full-scale field survey specifically for purposes of planning. Existing inventories can and should be used. In fact, it is not advisable to wait until complete resource information has been obtained before preparing the plan.

Information used to prepare and revise the preservation plan, however, should be as accurate and up-to-date as possible. This does not mean that historic resources with information more than a year old should be re-visited, or that 20-year-old technical analyses or field surveys must be redone. Potential limitations in out-of-date information should be recognized and factored into the overall assessment of information during the planning process.

Characterizing the planning area's known historic and cultural resources in various ways can help define issues that may need attention during the planning process. The following questions may be helpful in indentifying topics for additional attention:

  • What do we know about the resoures?

  • How well do we know it?

  • What don't we know?

  • What kinds of resources have been recorded and what kinds have not?

  • What areas have, and have not yet, been surveyed to identify what kinds of resources?

  • What time periods are or are not represented, and how well?

  • Where are the resources located?

  • What condition are they in?

  • What resources are already protected, and how?

  • Who controls the resources; who manages the lands in/on which they exist?

Another essential analysis is the evaluation of resource significance. Because it is not possible to save everything, decisions need to be made about which resources are of value and, therefore, are worthy of preservation. These decisions are usually made on the basis of the National Register criteria of significance applied within the frame of reference of their past history or prehistory, using historic contexts.

Sources of Resource Information

Information about historic and cultural resources is derived from a variety of sources, such as:

  • Historic context studies

  • Theme studies

  • National Register of Historic Places documentaiton

  • Multiple Property documentation

  • Resource inventories

  • Reports of Section 106 activities, including reports by consulting firms commonly called "gray literature"

  • Assessments of threats to and opportunities for resource preservation

  • Field survey reports

  • Community history studies

  • Questionnaire surveys and public opinion polls

  • Existing conditions and forecasted trends in social, economic, political, legal, environmental, and other factors

Additional guidance on Resource Assessment can be found in Sources of Additional Information — just click on the menu link to the left.

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