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Improving Our Quality of Life

“Securing quality of life is at the heart of what preservation is all about…But quality of life is fragile – those things that make up a given community’s quality of life need to be identified, enhanced, and protected. And that’s where historic preservation comes in. Historic buildings are an important element in most community’s quality of life criteria because it is those buildings that provide a sense of belonging, a sense of ownership, a sense of evolution – that sense of community that sustainable economic growth requires."

– Donovan D. Rypkema, April 27, 1996

The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) continues to improve our quality of life by documenting and preserving America’s rich heritage of historic structures. The NHPA expanded important documentation programs of the National Historic Sites Act of 1935, such as the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), by requiring agencies to mitigate the impact of federally-funded construction projects on historic sites through mandatory documentation. Today, the measured drawings, large-format photographs, and written histories of the HABS collection, along with those of the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS), and the Cultural Resources Geographic Information Systems (CRGIS), provide critical material for the historic preservation movement, supporting additions to the National Park system, nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, designations as National Historic Landmarks, and private preservation efforts across the country. The complete NPS Heritage Documentation Programs (HABS/HAER/HALS) collection is maintained by the Library of Congress and available online.

To understand the depth and breadth of the programs, explore the following four documentation projects – National Park Roads and Bridges, the Marshall Space Flight Center, the South Omaha Union Stock Yards, and the Pitzer Ranch.

Fast Facts:

  • The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) was founded in 1933, the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) in 1969, the Cultural Resources Geographic Information Systems (CRGIS) in 1989, and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) in 2000.
  • Documentation exists for over 37,000 sites, including over 61,000 sheets of measured drawings, over 254,000 large-format photographs, and over 23,000 written historical reports.


a New England covered bridge
Image of  Saturn rocket

Marshall Space Flight Center

Omaha Stock Yards logo

Omaha Union Stock Yards

Image of Pitzer Ranch building porch area











Image of a bridge documented by HABS/HAER

Did You Know?
The Historic American Buildings Survey is the nation’s oldest federal preservation program and laid the groundwork for many of the preservation strategies still used today.