This paper uses existing policy objectives and demonstration projects to provide both a theoretical and a practical foundation for the use of alternative design guidelines at the local level. Underlying these policies and projects is an attempt at reevaluating the sweeping application of longstanding preservation standards and criteria that are at times incompatible with contrasting cultural values and economic needs. Referring to a flexible, cost-sensitive variation on generic local design guidelines that are often based strictly on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, the basis for “alternative design guidelines” is founded entirely on the affordable housing design guidelines model created by National Trust for Historic Preservation a decade ago.
Questions concerning the use of “lower standards” and the determination of value and significance in economically challenged historic neighborhoods are discussed. Additionally, ideas for adapting and expanding the information provided within design guidelines are presented; sustainable “green” products and comparison charts are examples. The result is a conceptual framework that attempts to underline the mutual benefits of using alternative design guidelines to preservationists and the communities they work with: making rehabilitation projects economically viable while retaining historic integrity. Based upon respected preservation standards and reflective of local economic, social and architectural values, alternative design guidelines can be one tool among the many that are needed to protect our historic resources while truly serving the public good.