Part 5: Strengthening Your Position

Before you speak out on an advocacy issue, be very clear on the nature of the changes proposed for the historic place.

Get Your Facts Straight

Do some research on the historic place’s heritage status and determine whether it is designated or on a heritage inventory.

If it is, what aspects of the place (for example, character-defining elements) have been identified as important? If it hasn’t been officially recognized, has there been work to understand its historical, social, architectural, or contextual significance?

Delve into the municipal planning context for the historic place.

This will help you understand the zoning for the property, community plans or guidelines for the area, and the history of planning decisions around the site in question.

Distinguish the people from the problem.

Genuinely listen to the challenges around the historic place and establish a flexible position with options of mutual benefit to both the current owner and the interests of your stakeholders.

You are concerned about the fate of this historic place, but it is also important to map out who the other stakeholders are (for example, neighbours, former occupants, or users). Are there influential individuals associated with the place – past or present – that can be useful in your cause? Gauge the impact of the change to this historic place – for example, is this the best site for this development? Get to know the planning system and laying field (see Part 3: What Roles Do Governments Play) and understand opportunities open to intervene. Try to ascertain the size of the investment that will be going into the historic place and the taxes it will generate; this economic impact and your proposed alternative will need to take this into consideration. Also, assess the level of public support for your advocacy initiative. If it is strong, how can you leverage this? If it is weak, what is  holding it back? Can you gather and release information and insights that might help change this?

Develop a Compelling “Win-Win” Vision and Be Flexible

01. Historic places need appropriate new uses in order to survive.

While fighting to save a place from demolition, you need to have a positive and achievable goal in mind. Do your research on the current changes proposed for your historic place, and develop counter-arguments that propose creative solutions.

Are there other potential uses for the historic place that leave important features intact? Are there areas of greater flexibility for change? If so, do your homework on the financial viability of such a proposal, including rehabilitation costs and operation of the property.

02. Be respectful yet strong.

Question “facts,” present alternatives to biased “expert” testimony, and beware of less than full disclosure.

03. Put together a negotiating team.

Explore alternatives to the current development proposal with the current owner and a small negotiating team (select members with special skills/influence).

Work with the negotiating team in advance to prepare a position statement, establish the economic and social advantages of rehabilitating a historic site, and develop best and worst case scenarios.

Before You Start – Ask Yourself:


What is the decision-making process around the proposed changes, and what are the timelines?


Where is the financing for the project coming from? If there is public funding involved, there may be an opportunity to flag concerns with the funder about unintended heritage impacts.


Who currently owns the historic place and what is their record with other properties?