Preservation Rightsizing Network

Legacy Cities + Historic Places

Category: Resources

Arches: An Open Source Platform for Cultural Resource Inventories

By David Myers

The critical first step in protecting significant cultural resources is having baseline information on what and where they are, as well as their current status and potential uses. This information is essential for those involved in managing or trying to affect change in legacy cities and for urban revitalization. City and regional agencies play a crucial role in collecting and making available such baseline information through their cultural resource inventories (which are often added to and updated through historic resource surveys).

Inventories are a critical tool for making proactive, timely, and informed decisions, especially when high demolition and/or redevelopment pressures exist. They are most effective when city and regional agencies are able to harness modern information technologies that 1) offer widespread and easy access to key information and 2) allow records to be easily updated to reflect changing conditions. However, developing and maintaining effective digital inventory systems and sustaining related data is a costly and difficult undertaking that can be beyond the reach of many organizations and agencies.

In an environment of diminishing resources for heritage organizations and municipal governments, the Getty Conservation Institute and World Monuments Fund created the Arches Heritage Inventory and Management System, a modern enterprise-level open source software platform designed for use by heritage institutions around the world. Arches—web-based and geospatially enabled—is purpose-built for managing inventories of all types of heritage places, including buildings, structures, historic districts, archaeological sites, and cultural landscapes. As an open source platform, Arches is available at no cost and is customizable to meet organizations’ particular needs. Organizations may choose to provide unrestricted access to their Arches implementation and data or limit access. Arches is designed to be as intuitive as possible to allow authorized users to enter, edit, and search data with little technical training.

Arches is already being used by a wide range of heritage organizations internationally. Organizations that have deployed Arches in the U.S. include:

  • City of Los Angeles: The City of Los Angeles has implemented Arches as HistoricPlacesLA (, the official Los Angeles Historic Resources Inventory, as a tool to fulfill its obligations under federal, state, and local historic preservation laws; to provide input to its planning processes; and to make information publicly accessible.

Screenshot of HistoricPlacesLA showing clusters representing over 25,000 cultural resources identified to date by the City of Los Angeles. Credit: City of Los Angeles.


  • Queen Anne’s County, Maryland: Queen Anne’s County is implementing Arches to present and help preserve more than 300 years of its history of individuals, properties, and events that are significant to the nation, Maryland, and Queen Anne’s County. This Arches deployment is slated to go public later in 2017.
  • Cane River National Heritage Area: The Cane River National Heritage Area in Louisiana has implemented Arches as the Cane River Heritage Inventory and Map ( to manage information on cultural resources and to promote public knowledge, appreciation, and interest in them.

Screenshot of the Cane River Heritage Inventory and Map including integration of historic basemap. Credit: Cane River National Heritage Area.

  • Armed Forces Retirement Home: The Armed Forces Retirement Home, a 272-acre historic residential campus in Washington, DC, established in 1851 for military veterans and managed by a federal agency, is using Arches ( as a tool to inventory and manage its important cultural resources.

Other organizations around the world have implemented Arches, including as national inventories in Asia and the Caribbean. Implementations are now being prepared in the U.S. by the City and County of San Francisco and in the UK by Historic England for Greater London and by the City of Lincoln.

The Arches project is now finalizing development of version 4.0 of the platform, which includes numerous enhancements, such as tools for customization and configuration. Development is also now starting on an Arches online/offline mobile data collection app, which is planned for completion by the end of 2017.

To learn more, visit the Arches project website at

Using the location filter in Arches, resources that would be impacted by a proposed development project can be quickly identified. Credit: City of Los Angeles.

The Related Resources graph reveals relationships between Arches resources, in this instance between an architect and heritage resources as well as other persons related to those heritage resources (such as owners and occupants). Credit: Arches Project.

David Myers is Senior Project Specialist at the Getty Conservation Institute.


About this series

This is the final post in a series that has explored how others are using data to support, improve, and create good preservation practices. The Action Agenda prioritizes data collection and analysis to support key efforts of legacy city preservation:

Action Item 3: Use data to support and improve good practices.

Preservationists need data that goes beyond the facts of buildings, styles, and architects. Good data and layered multidisciplinary analysis can inform strategic decision-making on the ground, prioritize limited funds, support coalition-building with organizations in allied fields, direct preservationists in refining practices and tools in challenging legacy city contexts, and shape effective advocacy efforts. In particular, rigorous analysis should examine how reinvesting in older and historic buildings and neighborhoods compares to demolition with regard to social, economic, and environmental outcomes such as community stability, foreclosures, and property values.

Preservation Advocacy Week 2017: Get Involved

Welcome to Preservation Advocacy Week 2017! Even if you’re not reading this from Washington, DC, you can still make an impact. Here’s how:

  1. Pick up the phone. Call your Members of Congress to express your support for Historic Tax Credits and the Historic Tax Credit Improvement Act (HTCIA). If your Member is already cosponsoring the HTCIA, make sure to thank them; if not, ask if they will sign on as a cosponsor. Find your Representative here and your Senator here.

  2. Reach out. Use social media and local media to highlight HTC projects in your community and talk about their impacts on jobs, private investment, and neighborhood revitalization. The Novogradac Historic Tax Credit Mapping Tool is a terrific resource: it lists HTC projects by state and congressional district from 2001 to 2015.

  3. Talk to colleagues. Many people have a stake in the Historic Tax Credit: developers at all scales, affordable housing providers, community development organizations, and people who live or work in HTC-rehabbed buildings. Ask them to advocate for the HTC and HTC Improvement Act to counter the perception that it’s only wealthy developers who benefit.

  4. Show up. If your Member of Congress will be in your district April 10-21, see if you can schedule a meeting with him or her – and set up a visit to a HTC project, if possible!

A set of one-page briefs from Preservation Action can provide background to help with advocacy. PRN was pleased to partner with the Center for Community Progress and the Legacy Cities Partnership to produce three educational briefs for representatives from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. If you live in one of those states, please download and use the brief when speaking with your legislator!

The National Trust held a webinar last Thursday, March 9, which is archived here (free access, requires sign-in). Speakers discussed ways to effectively reach representatives, including some inspiring case studies, and offered an update on current legislation.

Highlight: Policy Statement on Historic Preservation and Community Revitalization

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is an independent federal agency that advises the President and Congress on national historic preservation policy. The ACHP’s most recent policy statement tackles historic preservation and community revitalization in distressed communities, from rural areas to legacy cities. The Preservation Rightsizing Network participated in the development of this policy statement, along with other organizations and federal agencies, and is pleased to present this summary introduction.

By Charlene Dwin Vaughn

After years of research and study into the needs of communities across the U.S. that are struggling to revive their economies and historic assets, the ACHP issued a policy statement in November 2016. It is aimed at helping urban, suburban, rural, and tribal communities provide ideas and principles for successful community revitalization.

To incorporate historic preservation into revitalization efforts, and in light of current discussions about tax reform and infrastructure needs throughout the country, stakeholders are reminded that:

• tax credits and tax incentives can be used to promote historic preservation projects that preserve local assets;
• historic preservation should be incorporated in local planning efforts that focus on sustainability and smart growth;
• effective citizen engagement that reflects the diversity of the community can assist in identifying historic properties and cultural resources that should be considered for preservation and reuse; and
• flexibility in the treatment of some historic buildings in Section 106 reviews can help achieve broader neighborhood preservation goals.

The ACHP urges federal and local officials to use the principles in the policy statement to help communities going through significant neighborhood and commercial redevelopment. Also, the policy statement provides a framework for developing local partnerships to preserve the history and heritage of communities that are rapidly undergoing changes to accommodate 21st century modifications in technology, workforce development, global economies, and land use.

While these changes are all critical to developing sustainable communities, they should include historic properties that help provide a historical context in neighborhoods. Furthermore, they should acknowledge that historic preservation values are important to most communities, as they ensure cultural resources and assets are considered when preparing redevelopment plans for the future.

Read the full policy statement.

Charlene Dwin Vaughn works for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation as the Assistant Director, Office of Federal Agency Programs.

Resource: Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities, May 2013

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy recently published a new report “Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities” by Alan Mallach and Lavea Brachman available for download as a PDF here. Find more information on their website or read on for an excerpt of the abstract:

This policy focus report explores the challenges of regenerating America’s legacy cities—older industrial cities that have experienced sustained job and population loss over the past few decades. It identifies the powerful obstacles that stand in the way of fundamental change in the dynamics of these cities, and suggests directions by which cities can overcome those obstacles and embark on the path of regeneration.

While almost all of the nation’s older industrial cities declined through the 1980s, the picture has changed in more recent decades. The report examines 18 representative cities to explore how their trajectories have changed, with some showing signs of revival while others continued to decline. These 18 cities were selected from a universe of approximately 50 legacy cities, which met two primary criteria: population of at least 50,000 in 2010; and loss of at least 20 percent from the city’s peak population. The cities represent geographic diversity, including New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southern, and Midwestern cities, as well as variation in their level of recovery or regeneration.

Alan Mallach and Lavea Brachman lay the groundwork by exploring the challenges these cities face and reviewing the economic, social, market, physical, and operational factors that have led to their present condition. The relative health or vitality of each of these cities was tracked with 15 separate indicators to measure population change, socioeconomic condition, housing markets, and economic activity. Some appear highly successful, at least in relative terms; others are clearly unsuccessful; and others fall in between.

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