11/16/2009 09:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Wise Preservation can Anchor a Changing Neighborhood

Change is essential, and so is remembering where we came from and who helped us along the way.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending an event organized by the National Park Service at the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site, in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta. We gathered to celebrate the acquisition and addition to the historic site of another home on Auburn Avenue, where Dr. King grew up in the 1930s and 1940s, and I was pleased and honored to meet Christine King Farris, Dr. King's sister.

As a group of us stood watching children jumping rope on a nearby sidewalk, Christine Farris began reminiscing about her own childhood on Auburn Avenue, playing hopscotch and hide-and-seek with her brother and other children. And I was struck by the way that the avenue--location of both the King birth home and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King and his father were both pastors--has been preserved by the historic site, while remaining a dynamic neighborhood, one of our few lived-in national parks.


It almost wasn't that way. Thirty years ago, as the National Park Service was gearing up to create the historic site, The Trust for Public Land was able to get ahead of the wrecking ball and buy for the site five of the mostly derelict structures along the avenue. Over the past 30 years, all but one of the remaining homes within the designated park have been purchased, renovated, and rented, creating a vibrant, historic neighborhood. Existing renters were offered the opportunity to move back into their renovated homes at no raise in rent. And the historic district has been great for the local economy, too.

Getting the balance right between change and preservation is always a challenge. But hearing Dr. King's sister recall her childhood on a street that has been preserved, being able to sit in the Ebenezer Baptist Church and hear Dr. King's recorded sermons, and touring the historic site's wonderful new visitor center--reminded me once again that it is worthwhile to strive for that balance.