There are forty-nine National Heritage Areas. Each one is authorized by Congress through legislation with a purpose to preserve, promote, and interpret natural and cultural resources and, in some cases, make them available for the economic benefit of their communities.
The NHA concept rests on the idea that a shared narrative is the centerpiece of a community engagement strategy bringing diverse stakeholders together to fashion a common vision for the desired future of the region. A shared regional identity is a critical factor for success. People must feel rooted in a place. Communicating knowledge of place through storytelling is important.
Evaluations of existing NHAs point out that their highest-priority is cultural and natural resource conservation, with significant investments in the restoration of watersheds and river corridors, the preservation of landmark properties, and the documentation of cultural practice and folk traditions. Education and interpretation of the natural and built environments, including the cultural traditions of residents, is the second-highest priority.
Many of the NHAs are in the Eastern portion of the country and in economically distressed areas. They emphasize economic development—mostly by destination tourism.
However, there are a variety of viable purposes for becoming a National Heritage Area:
- History & Heritage
National Heritage Areas revive historic sites and tell our nation’s history in innovative ways.
- Healthy Environment
Conservation activities led by National Heritage Areas improve air and water quality and support a healthy ecosystem and beautiful environment.
Recreational activities are available in most National Heritage Areas.
National Heritage Areas educate future leaders in history, science, and technology.
- Economic Impacts
Economic impact studies indicate National Heritage Areas contribute $12.9 billion annually to the national economy. The economic benefits of NHAs are realized primarily through tourism and visitation.
The main purpose of Santa Clara County’s becoming a National Heritage Area is different, possibly, unique among existing NHAs. The crux of our application is how Santa Clara Valley became one of the richest and most important agricultural areas in the world and then transformed to be the most important region in the world for technology, entrepreneurship and innovation. Santa Clara County transformed the world economy and our culture. It is largely responsible for what today we call the “knowledge economy” and “social media.”
Our history can provide contemporary residents with a rich and useful legacy. Recalling and honoring this legacy can have a tremendous impact on the future of our Valley. Given the pressing environmental, growth and economic issues facing us today, this is critically important.
It is the primary purpose of our becoming an NHA.
The legacy of Santa Clara County primarily centers around these things:
- A uniquely beautiful and rich environment. Climate and water are two of the most important elements that drove the development and transformation of the Valley.
- Extraordinary contributions from a wide variety of immigrants from all over the world. Santa Clara County has been peopled by a greater diversity than almost any other area in the nation.
- A constant and consistent struggle for worker rights and social justice. Santa Clara County has been in or near the forefront of nearly all the important labor and civil rights movements in the country.
- Valuing diversity, risk-taking and innovation. These three things are the basis of Santa Clara County becoming the most successful region in the world for new technologies and high-tech businesses.
The one common thread in the Valley’s history, and related to all four of the legacy issues above, is a focus on quality of life. From its very inception to today, people came here seeking a better quality of life. That quality of life was defined as more than the physical environment—although that was an important part of it. It was also defined as economic and social opportunity. And, it always had to do with breaking new ground.
However, each new development in the County’s history, while it improved the community’s quality of life, it also created problems and challenges. That is case today more than ever. So, the most important purpose of Santa Clara County becoming a National Heritage Area is to revitalize interest and participation in the Valley’s history and heritage in order to educate our communities on the Valley’s legacy. This will allow our communities to promote and become directly involved in innovative and lasting solutions to the Valley’s environmental, social, and economic challenges.
Santa Clara County will use the NHA for programs and activities related to the region’s natural, historical and cultural resources that promote three central concerns related to the region’s quality of life. These are:
Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. It refers to a collaborative process that shapes our public spaces for shared value. It facilitates the creative use of these spaces and emphasizes the physical, cultural, and social identities that define them and support their evolution.
However, people must have a shared regional identity to collaborate to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces. They must feel rooted in a place to identify with it. Storytelling about the region’s history—an important aspect of the NHA—is a powerful way to build this identity. We will use the NHA to educate the public, particularly young people, about the area’s rich heritage of communal places and landscapes.
- Community Building
Community building covers many issues: economic vitality, affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, good schools, efficient transportation. A vibrant community is a “complete” community. It is engaged. The needs of daily living are easily accessible. It is strong through its shared values and also its diversity.
The cultural history of Santa Clara County has much to teach contemporary residents about a sense of community—something diminished if not lost today. The NHA will provide many opportunities for residents and visitors to learn about the region’s many different historic communities and cultural traditions.
- Environmental Sustainability
Environmental sustainability most commonly means being able to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The resiliency of an urban environment to a large extent is based on density, diversity and mix of uses, users, building types, and public spaces. It includes conserving and enhancing the health of natural systems and areas of environmental significance, and managing the impacts of climate change.
The heritage of Santa Clara County has much to teach us today about conservation and preservation. As well, the NHA can demonstrate how the technology and innovation Santa Clara County is known for worldwide can be used to support sustainability.
Examples of NHA Purpose Statements
Great Migration and Black Metropolis Feasibility Study:
"Located within the greater Bronzeville community, the Black Metropolis NHA would establish a framework within which residents, community organizations, local institution, businesses, and elected officials will work together to interpret the area's distinctive landscape, history and culture of the Black Metropolis, and the story of the Great Migration. The ultimate goal of the NHA will be to focus on tourism and economic development, building upon the community's existing education and cultural tourism resources."