Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Community-Driven Development versus Community Outreach

May 17, 2013

Tuesday night we had our Colombia Project Director Dr. Santiago Giraldo speaking here in Palo Alto on “Education and Community at Ciudad Perdida”. The Global Heritage Fund (Join Here!) works to preserve the most significant and endangered heritage sites in the developing world, and Ciudad Perdida is a prime example, abandoned in the 16th century after a thousand years of unique urban development, the site was left to the ravages of the jungle, looters and narcotraffickers. GHF worked with the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History to help conserve these amazing structures of stone: huge circular platforms and embankments, connected by myriad stone stairways in a unique open urban system I described two months ago here.
CP i main iBest
But Santiago on Tuesday night was focusing on education and community development efforts. As I am constantly pointing out to everyone who will listen, community development is not an “add-on” to heritage conservation. It HAS to be there or the conservation doesn’t work: local people are the ultimate stewards of every site, so it must work to their advantage (cultural, social, economic) or they won’t keep it around. It is not how much money you spend on a site, or even how clever you are about planning and conservation treatment. Sustainability requires stewardship, and that means the heritage site must be central to community development.
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The problem I often encounter is that many conservation professionals, in hearing that Global Heritage Fund prioritizes community development, will propose a series of community meetings and inputs for their archaeological or architectural project. They will propose conservation skills training, and often community tourism training. These are all good things, especially the ones that provide jobs. But they are only a sliver of what community development is.
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Much of what I see in proposals is community outreach. We explain how we are going to excavate or restore a site to the local population and make sure they are okay with it. That isn’t community development. As we learned last week in a great meeting with World Bank officials, the current terminology is community-driven development, and I think that is very helpful. We are not reaching out to explain or enlist the local community. We are asking for their needs, issues, hopes and dreams BEFORE we plan the project. They are a driving force in the development of the heritage site.
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This what Santiago does very well at Ciudad Perdida. He stops and talks to everyone about what they need, about what they think. And they know he is willing to change plans to support their needs. One of the items we shared at the Tuesday night event in Palo Alto was a teacher’s guide La Sierra Y Yo that uses the heritage site and surrounding national park as the basis for learning science, natural history, culture, history and more. GHF has also supported Guides to the wildlife of the area.
La Sierra Y Yos
We have helped develop sanitary systems that serve the eco-lodges where tourists stay, and more efficient wood-burning stoves for these same lodges. These aren’t just for the tourists: they help improve living conditions for locals who live and operate in the homestay lodges. The stoves also reduce the need for firewood – and the subsequent deforestation – by a third or more.
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Heritage conservation is a process, and that process includes community-driven development. The identification, evaluation, registration and treatment of sites is a process that incorporates a community’s needs and desires from the beginning: they help identify what aspects of a site are important to them and they help define the treatment of those sites. They also drive how the site can be developed for conservation work, for tourism, for retail, and indeed for the enhancement of the value of a PLACE.
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To accomplish this you need more than skills in architecture, archaeology or conservation: you need skills in working with stakeholders, identifying how heritage relates to their social and economic everyday, and planning a project with their input from the very beginning. GHF has always been proud of its planning capabilities, and we aim to enhance those capabilities in the future so that we live up to our motto: Saving heritage globally; changing lives locally.

Homeownership as Industrial Relic

May 10, 2013

This blog is of course inspired in part by living in one of the world’s most expensive real estate markets where double-wides can cost a million dollars, but it is also situated in time, and as the blog in its eighth year is still called Time Tells, let us think about homeownership in time.

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The idea of homeownership and the financial mechanisms to achieve it were a key to the economics of the 20th century, when the growth of the middle class and a consumer economy became the lion’s share of GDP, especially in the States.  There are innumerable studies that also link homeownership to things like family and economic stability, rising real estate values, and other attributes of the growth of the middle class.  And the phenomenon has spread beyond the United States to other parts of the developing world, although never with the market saturation seen stateside.

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The roots of the obsession with homeownership and our economic dependence on it go back to the 19th century Industrial Revolution, when, for the first time, we separated work from home on a grand scale and had to invent a whole new culture of domesticity (and unnaturally restricted gender roles) to support a new economic geography.  Men went to work and women stayed home.  This was a new thing, and a literature and an art had to develop to support this innovative cultural frontier.

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As the middle class came into existence and expanded, the importance of domestic architecture grew correspondingly.  It had to be tranquil, conducive to family, a respite from the smoky reality of factory and office.  Even the crowded urban tenements, constantly being reformed throughout the 19th century, kept adding elements of middle class respectability.  My Fair Lady may focus on the costumes, but that “middle-class respectability” was also about architecture interior and exterior.

 

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belgravia flats

An old college friend with considerable financial expertise told me recently that it made no economic sense to buy a house in California. While he relented after years to domestic pressure (the cultural construct outlives the economic rationale) I took his words to heart. And I also thought about what Time Tells: homeownership means a fixed location, which makes sense for an industrial economy where you might comceivably have one job in one place for an entire career. It makes sense when fixed assets like factories remain in place. But in the fluid global knowledge economy of the 21st century the average worker must be trained for 20 years instead of 8 or 12. That same worker will need to be retrained 3 or 4 times over their lifetime and need to relocate 4 to 6 times.

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In SO many ways we are SO over the middle class of the 20th century so why on earth would we tie ourselves to a mortgage and a fixed location? Culture of course. It outlasts economic rationale. And of course the massive suite of U.S. Government support of homeownership, extending from a host of 1930s financing mechanisms (including the dramatic reduction of down payments from 50% of value) to the ongoing deductibility of mortgage interest has extended the economic benefits of homeownership well beyond the larger economic rationale. Will these subsidies shift in the coming years as we recognize the desirability of a more fluid workforce in a more fluid economy or will the pressures of political support (great to have voters fixed in place!) override the rationale? We shall see.

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All of this thinking about the (relatively recent) history of homeownership was inspired by a recent study by David G. Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Andrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick, which argued that “areas with high levels of homeownership are more likely to stifle innovation and job creation.” Why? Labor mobility, discussed above, was a major factor. Zoning was also a factor, a much longer discussion we must save for another day. Silicon Valley – a crucible of innovation for two generations – is pretty far from Warwick, but its never-ending blast furnace of real estate values may well be the exception that proves the rule: the one place where home values defy history and continue to go up, fueled by the churn of knowledge workers. Or?

CLASSICAL

The Economics of Uniqueness

March 21, 2013

The World Bank recently published a book called “The Economics of Uniqueness: Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Assets for Sustainable Development.” which is an intriguing title given our work at the Global Heritage Fund, since it pretty much defines a key feature of our mission:  saving heritage sites and making them work economically for local communities in developing countries.

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Pingyao, a city core we have been working in since 2008

The report includes contributions by Christian Ost, an acknowledged leader in the economics of historic cities, and the award-winning Donovan Rypkema, both members of our Senior Advisory Board.  More than simply touting the various types of economic benefit brought to communities by heritage conservation (jobs, land value, tourism, etc.) the report actually focus on the strategy and process of heritage conservation.  This is key.  At Global Heritage Fund we talk about our Preservation by Design® methodology combining scientific conservation, planning, partnerships and community development.  You can only sustain a heritage resource if the community is involved in, and benefits from, its conservation.  That way you have a multigenerational conservation strategy.

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On the trail to Ciudad Perdida

The World Bank report takes a similar tack: instead of simply enumerating economic benefits, it outlines the process of engaging community in conservation.  It talks about stakeholders; about balancing regulation and incentives; about balancing conservation and “an acceptable degree of change;” about ensuring a dialogue between the public and private sectors.  It is in short, a solid 21st century approach to our field.

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Cusco

Indeed, the report acknowledges that the economic arguments are well understood at this point: “the economic justification for public sector investment is well established” while recognizing that all projects need an element of private sector investment as well.  This is key, because the old model of public sector conservation has been somewhat obsolete since, well, since I began working in this field 30 years ago.  The byword then, in the Reagan Era, was “public-private partnerships,” and indeed the entire World Bank document is essentially addressed to public and private stakeholders in heritage.

ImageMesilla, New Mexico

The report points out the fact that the economics of heritage is a relatively new field, having separated itself from the “Use and Non-Use Value” concepts of conservation economics in the 1990s, promulgated the concept of “cultural capital” and eventually settling on the hedonic valuation method.  This is exciting to me, because it incorporates the urban economics I studied and practiced in my last incarnation with the tourism economics that has been a mainstay of GHF’s archaeological projects.  In effect, the report captures both the economics of a heritage city like Pingyao and the community- and labor-intensive economics of heritage tourism.  The latter is important because our economic understanding of tourism has evolved very significantly since the 1980s when I was first involved in this. 

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Indiana Dunes town

 

David Throsby’s chapter deals with the concept of cultural capital and cultural assets within the context of sustainability, which again cuts to the core of the GHF mission:  if you save or restore a site without community investment and benefit, your efforts will not last a generation:  if you save it with community input and gain, it will last longer.  It will be more sustainable.  Moreover, as Throsby notes, cultural heritage, like endangered species, is irreplaceable: you cannot make new heritage sites.  They are a limited resource.

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not authentic ones anyway

Actually, Throsby does consider that new heritage CAN be made, although like wine or scotch, only time tells whether it will contain the cultural value we associate with currently recognized heritage. In the United States our preservation battles today are often over 1960s High Modernism, where some debate still takes place over its value. Throsby goes on to enumerate the cultural values inherent in heritage which are non-economic:
Aesthetic Value
Symbolic Value
Spiritual Value
Social Value
Historic Value
Authenticity Value
Scientific Value

This list is broader than the Alois Riegl list many of us grew up with, but it does track with many landmarks ordinances, and in terms of our work at GHF, it relates well to both our archaeological (Scientific Value) and architectural (Aesthetic and Symbolic Value) projects, not to mention those spiritual and social glues that make communities cohere. Throsby then links the two and proposes a future valuation technique analagous to health economics that would begin to more mathematically monetize cultural values. We sort of “get it” when we read about cities people choose to live and invest in due to “quality of life” issues.
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like good dumplings
Throsby also deals with the carrot-and-stick of heritage policy. This is something we discuss a lot at the National Trust for Historic Preservation: trying to go beyond The Ones Who Say No. You need elements of both regulation and incentives to succeed in saving heritage and making it function profitably. Much of this is a catalyst effect, but Throsby backed up the contention with a host of statistics and results from a variety of cities, notably in Eastern Europe (Skopje and Vilnius). If the public-private partnership is the vehicle for heritage conservation, then regulation-and-incentive policies are the fuel for its economic engine. The field is still young, as the actual economic impacts have yet to be fully or even adequately measured. For one in the business as long as I, it is at least gratifying to see that economics is now at the heart of our field, rather than tangential to it.

Modern and Ancient, my Whirled in Views

February 7, 2013

As the Executive Director of the Global Heritage Fund I deal with many ancient sites, including one of the most ancient, the religious complex being excavated by the Deutsche Archaeologische Institut at Göbekli Tepe, Turkey, where stone columns carved with animals form intriguing ringed structures that predate Stonehenge by 6,000 years. This is not only ancient, it is more ancient than almost any other site people are preserving. I am honored to be involved in this.
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But as a Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Board Member of Landmarks Illinois, I am dealing with lots of modern artifacts, including the justifiably famous Prentice Women’s Hospital, a 1975 landmark that marked the first deployment of computer-aided design and crafted concrete cantilevers known for their beauty as well as their ability to hold a 45-foot projection. Bertrand Goldberg – whom I met – designed the building in his famous ‘flower petal’ mode and I have blogged about it many times before. Here. And here. And here. And way back here over two years ago. Which just goes to show you that preservationists are not always slow on the draw. We had the drop on the bumbling owner (Northwestern University) by, like EIGHT YEARS. Their clout might well prevail, but they definitely showed up late and unprepared.

The denouement, a court-ordered second hearing on landmark status and denial, will be held today, February 7, 2013.
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Okay, time for ancient again. One of our cool sites here at Global Heritage Fund (you can JOIN here.) is El Mirador, a 2,500 year old pre-Classic Mayan site in Guatemala. Led by Dr. Richard Hansen, the conservation of this site includes one of the world’s largest pyramids and a massive frieze uncovered by Hansen’s team. The project also preserves a unique and rich biosphere that surrounds the site, enveloping it in dense jungle.
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el-mirador

And now back to modern. I was just reading about the people who bought the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Arizona and wanted to demolish it because it sits on two lots and they could make a lot of money developing the land. Their attitude was that the building is a lovely landmark, but they need their money. Which is in my view a dramatic misunderstanding of capitalism. Capitalism is not a system that guarantees a profit: it is a system that may reward risk with profit; may reward investment with return; and may reward hard work with leisure. But it doesn’t guarantee that. That would be socialism or something. I used to have a hard time explaining to my students that real estate values didn’t always go up – because they had lived in a time when real estate values always went up. This gave them a skewed vision of history, which 2007 quickly corrected. Also, the owners whined and whinged that landmarking affected their property value negatively, without noting the irony that zoning into two lots had artificially inflated their property value. Both are government actions that affect the marketplace.
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Here is a Frank Lloyd Wright Building I bought for $1 twenty years ago. I paid at least $40,000 too much. But I didn’t whine about it. Maybe I should have. The Arizona housenappers got paid.
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This house cost $10,000 to build in 1863. It sold for less than $4,000 40 years later. That’s how history and economy work.

The challenge for all of historic preservation/heritage conservation is the challenge of adaptive re-use: How do you make a cultural artifact viable for the present and future social economy of a place? Every use is an adaptive re-use: the most primitive is the museum (even though museums as a concept are less than 300 years old). We think that this is preserving a house or an archaeological site just as it was but in fact it is repurposing it: it is making it into a museum.
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Dear old Glessner House, Chicago
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Dear old Hanyangling archaeological site, Shaanxi

Museums are not a great business model, so at GHF we are always looking for more economic variety and vitality in our projects. Ways to rekindle economic engines. Sitting in the heart of Silicon Valley, that approach to re-use seems to me more possible than ever. I live in an economy of ideas and technology, where fortunes are made not by the crude manipulation of matter into universal type-needs, but by the creative manipulation of concepts into new types of action and interaction that redefine not simply how we live but what we live and why we live.
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And unlike Arizona, our real estate is virtuous.

The internet (where you are right now) means people can live in many places, and while the value of face-to-face easily trumps online, we are finally living in the world that Morse promised over 150 years ago, where place becomes more of a choice for a significant portion of the population. And thus PLACE becomes not only the most valuable consumer item, but a key economic generator. And historic artifacts are a key – often the dominant one – to the iconography and desirability and thus the price – of PLACE.
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Nice weather helps.

But isn’t ancient more important than modern? It is older, after all, right?
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N gate best
The top picture depicts a site that is newer and younger than the lower picture.

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Same here.

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And here.

History is not arithmetic. 3000 years old is not three times as good as 1000 years old, and for that matter, 100 year old is not twice as good as 50 years old. Of course “age” figures into it, but so does “significance.” There are sites that have had massive impact on millions of people that are relatively modern, and there are corresponding ancient sites that have affected only a small number. More intriguingly for some of our GHF sites, we do NOT YET KNOW the impact of some of these places until we research them further. Marcahuamachuco in Peru is one example I mentioned last fall.
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this place, remember?

In addition to age value, we art value and historical value, which apply to some of the architectural landmarks pictured above. These values, handed down to us most notably by Alois Riegl (who wrote in 1903, making him twice as important as Hosmer who wrote 50 years later – JK!) have been at the center of heritage conservation discourse for a while. Riegl distinguished between a small number of historic monuments preserved essentially as museums, and the more common practice of adaptive re-use for the cultural landscape as a whole. He also recognized “newness value,” which is sort of the “next shiny thing” value because it describes our species obsession with novelty.
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old is new again

Each of these values can contribute – in different amounts – to the value of a PLACE, and I think ultimately that is the goal of our science, our mission. At Global Heritage Fund we recognize that conservation of heritage is about engaging and improving the lives of those who live around that heritage. We recognize that how heritage is preserved is part conservation science and part economic development. And we also know that when things are conserved in this way, they last.

Conserving Culture and Conserving Nature: Assets and Liabilities

October 27, 2012

The World Heritage Convention is nearing the end of its 40th anniversary, and since what we do here at Global Heritage Fund is help preserve World Heritage Sites in developing countries, I have been fielding a lot of inquiries on the status of the World Heritage Convention. As in so many aspects of heritage conservation/historic preservation, I have seen evolution in the field. In terms of sites inscribed on the World Heritage list, I would venture that we have seen some of the same shifts we have seen in “historic preservation” as a whole.

When World Heritage began in 1972, it focused, like the rest of the field, on iconic and visual landmarks that were clearly identified with their countries or cultures, places like the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu and the Statue of Liberty

Been there, done that (1986)

I shot this in January 2012

2010, summer

Interestingly, this focus on “monuments” which characterized much of our field well into the 1980s, also included natural areas. Indeed, one of the curiosities of World Heritage status is that much of the world has used it to register key cultural sites that are architectural and artistic, like Versailles and Khajuraho and Suzhou’s gardens, while the U.S. used it mostly for national parks like Yellowstone and the Great Smoky Mountains, and very early historical sites like Cahokia Mounds and Independence Hall.

1982, my first trip to Europe

1986 again. Who knew the Internet existed in the 10th century?

Dear Suzhou, Lion Grove gardens, just this last June

Monk’s Mounds, Cahokia, 2008

Independence Hall in 2010.

The Europeans have even inscribed modern architecture on the World Heritage list, while the U.S. has only just gotten around to doing a Frank Lloyd Wright listing that is still being nominated. The addition of modern architecture to the mission of heritage conservation happened early in Chicago, but only starting in the late 1980s elsewhere.

Rietveld Schröderhuis, shot in 2010. Man, that was a busy year

Now, there were many iconic places on the World Heritage list from the beginning that were collections of monuments, essentially historic districts, such as the city centers of places like Rome and Florence and Salzburg and L’viv and Quebec and Cusco. City centers or historic districts make up a significant percentage of the sites, and even in an archaeologically rich country like Peru, your World Heritage Sites are as likely to be cities as they are archaeological sites.

Firenze, 1982 again

L’viv (L’viw) 2006

Cusco, January 2012

The criteria for these sites can be summarized by the phrase “outstanding universal value,” a phrase with meaning that has clearly shifted a bit over 40 years. Just as our heritage practice has expanded beyond monuments to districts and cultural landscapes, so we have expanded beyond a European notion of the artifact to include Eastern ideas about intangible heritage. China has proposed for inscription villages in Guizhou that we are currently investigating, and there the significance lies in their preservation of the intangible cultural heritage of minority groups like the Miao and Dong. Many of the newer listings are described as “cultural landscapes.” One of my favorites was the Wachau, a stretch of towns, vineyards and drop dead Baroque churches along the Danube River in Austria.

Stift Melk, 2005

Durnstein, 2005

Celtic stone circle in Nesselstauden, also 2005

Now, the World Heritage list has three categories: Cultural, Natural, and Mixed, and all three are still inscribed each year. A lot of these are iconic as well, places like Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Halong Bay, Vietnam. 2001. This is getting to be like a James Bond movie location list.

Archaeological sites are frequent on the list as well, both cultural ones, like Chavin de Huantar in Peru, where GHF has been working for almost a decade, and sites like the 2012 listing for a seam of dinosaur fossils in China. Another site we worked on, Catalhoyuk in Turkey, was inscribed this year, and our other project there, Göbekli Tepe, is very likely to be inscribed soon. Archaeological sites require conservation from the moment they are unearthed, but they also reveal in their investigation their “outstanding universal value.”

Catalhoyuk, Building 77, 2010. Global Heritage Fund photo by Banu Aydinoglugil

I field a lot of questions from reporters about how World Heritage listing protects sites, and of course the answer is that the listing alone cannot restore or even protect sites, as the 2001 destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas and the current destruction of Islamic World Heritage sites (by Islamic rebels – it’s complicated) in Mali at Djenne and Timbuktu proves. Like any landmark status, World Heritage opens doors to funding, generates public and private support for protection, but relies of local laws for protection. We learned this working in Lima, another historic city centre. And of course, it has been in the news with the civill war in Syria.

Barrios Altos, Lima, 2012

World Heritage status can also generate tourism, as sites like Lijiang in China have demonstrated. In fact, it can generate too much, as both Machu Picchu and Angkor have learned.

Lijiang, 2008. I was also there in 2004.

Looking the other way at Machu Picchu. Toward the terraces that made it all possible. 2012.

Crowding out Angkor Wat, 2012. I guess this was a busy year too.

Natural. Cultural. I was sitting in the forest at home looking at the trees a few nights ago and I had a revelation about the difference between natural area conservation and historic preservation (heritage conservation). It is an economic difference, that has significant implications for those of us who try to achieve these things. Even more importantly, it has implications for how we raise money to achieve preservation of cultural sites.


One of my favorite World Heritage sites, Falun, a 300-year old open pit mine in Sweden. Photo from 2007.

Because if you look at the tourism angle, or even the house museum angle, you might see a great parallel between natural area conservation and heritage conservation of things like archaeological sites or house museums. Both require large infusions of cash and the only return they provide is from gate receipts, which typically only provide a fifth of the operating costs, not to mention capital costs.


Cave 16 (Kailasa) at Ellora, India. 1986. My FAVORITE heritage site. An entire temple, carved out of the side of the mountain from the top down. Twice the scale of the Parthenon. Way. Wicked. Cool.

It occured to me that when I help restore a historic World Heritage city like Pingyao, I am activating an asset. It may take some capital infusion to get it going, as we did by restoring courtyard houses there, but now the municipality is sponsoring grants to restore more houses, and new projects are activating this rich walled city. Pingyao is an asset, and it is an economic engine.

VROOM VROOM! June of this year.

Whereas if I am trying to save a wonderful natural landscape, I am working on the other side of the ledger. Wetlands and rainforests are obviously important, but in economic terms they are a liability. Now, having said that, I live in a place where real estate values are insane partly due to the amount of preserved natural areas. This is the idea behind common pool resource theory: the value of the natural area is alienated to the surrounding real estate. But to save it, you are still dealing with a liability, even if you tax all the surrounding property based on the increment it is earning from the conservation.

Natural area conservation is dealing with NON USE Value while much – most, I would argue – of historic preservation is dealing with USE Value. Conserving a natural area is a permanent drain on fiscal resources, but as Pingyao demonstrates, once you get a capital infusion into an historic building or district, it becomes a productive member of the economy, and can often pay its own way. Indeed, it should pay its own way.


Krems, Austria, 2005
What this means for organizations like mine is that not only is our mission different, but our way of raising funds is different, and can shift from a charitable to a business mode in a way conservation organizations can not. This is the idea behind an idea I have been working on with our Board of Trustees called GHF 2.0, which posits that we can become a more efficient organization by leveraging conservation, archaeological, architectural and economic development expertise through a model that recognizes that we are saving assets, not liabilities, and that they can become generative economic assets.


I don’t know if the World Heritage Convention thought of this in 1972 – I kind of doubt it, because we are still fighting our way out of the curatorial ghetto. But in 29 3/4 years of practice, I have seen how these engines work and I will continue to tune and prime them in the effort to save sites of outstanding universal value in a way that insures their social, environmental, cultural and economic sustainability.

Selling Out or Keeping It Real?

July 4, 2012

An article in the Washington Post yesterday described the economic challenges facing great European landmarks and how many are turning to corporate sponsorships and licensing deals to help defray the costs of maintaining ancient buildings.  This practice in turn has caused criticism from those who feel it is wrong to “sell” your collective heritage.

I began this blog a little less than seven years ago and in one of my early posts (prior to the invention of photography, apparently) I confessed my own apostasy in the case of the River Forest Women’s Club, a private club that was sold to a private owner who converted it into an award-winning home protected by preservation easements and powered by green technology.  (It is now for sale, if you are interested)

The controversy at that time was that the building was perceived as a public landmark, in part because the local Park District had operated it for paid public programming for three years.  But the public entity – the Park District – wanted to demolish the building, and did not have the resources to rehabilitate it following decades of deferred maintenance.

Should landmarks – physical elements of our collective heritage – be privatized?  The question is faulty on the face because it panders to the false idea that public and private are separate realms.  This ideational construct is not found, to my knowledge, in thousands of years of human history.  While some entities and enterprises are construed as public or private, their relationships and interpenetrations in the political economy of the real world are manifold.

There are obvious examples of this public-private symbiosis: bailouts of the banking and auto industries under Bush and Obama; financing of private railroads by 19th century land grants; massive municipal subsidies to private sports teams; the colossal public infrastructural support that made suburbs possible.  Yet still we prize this permeable distinction.

Clearly some standards are needed…

To me, the challenge in conserving our heritage, in interpreting it and insuring its value to our own and future generations is the challenge of sustainability:  how do you keep something vital, productive and relevant over time.

The answer to this question comes not simply from those with expertise in building materials, technologies, or architecture: nor simply from those who understand economics, planning and programming.  Every act of conservation, like every enterprise – succeeds or fails based on its successful balancing of all these factors and more.  It takes a village.

The question is not whether you put a billboard up on scaffolding, or allow a watch company to license the image of your landmark, or rent out your house museum to a TV production company for three days, but what the return on those actions is in terms of long-term sustainability of site, message, and ongoing public involvement.  If I make a public site inaccessible to the general public by renting it out two days a week to private entities, but the return on those two days ensures the long-term survival of the site – and its continued public access five days a week – I think I have a good deal.  This is a TV costume drama being shot in one of the courtyard house museums in East Lotus Village (Dong Lian Hua) in the Weishan Heritage Valley last month:

Our National Trust property in Monterey – Cooper-Molera Adobe – was once a commercial structure appended to a house.  It will be again, and the leasing to commercial interests will not only sustain the building – it will ENHANCE its message and interpretation because it will again function as it did originally.

At Mount Vernon they rebuilt and reopened the distillery that George Washington had built there.  I suppose Ann Pamela Cunningham, who spearheaded the effort to save Mount Vernon in the 1850s might have objected because her goal was to save Washington’s home from the onset of “manufactories”.  In terms of historic context, she was wrong, because in fact George Washington HAD a manufactory at Mount Vernon and was at one time the largest distiller in the United States.

But Ann Pamela promoted an ideological purism that sought to venerate landmarks as holy shrines.  Because we value the things we share we tend to make them sacred and want to protect them from the impulsiveness of markets or the vagaries of politics.  But any student of history can show how even the most sacred constructions had a vital economic role.  Moneychangers have ever been in the temple.

Gothic cathedrals were houses of worship to be sure, but they also had a place in important business transactions and documents BECAUSE they were public, communal places.  Khmer kings built temples to Shiva and Vishnu for worship to be sure, but also to shift commercial exchange to the environs of their new temple.   Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries of England less for religious belief and more because they had tons of money and commercial agriculture.

Perhaps there is utility in making our communal property a little more sacred than our private property.  A landmark is different – it contains stories of a community’s shared past.  It IS more important.  But importance and significance do not require religious asceticism.  A site can be significant AND productive.

That is the basic message of the Global Heritage Fund, since Monday my new employer and one of the few entities that recognizes heritage conservation as a vital community and economic development strategy.  Our mission is to use some of the world’s greatest heritage sites as keys to poverty alleviation, education and economic growth in developing countries.  Join us.

Chicago Preservation Update February 2012

February 9, 2012

Despite appearances to the contrary, I am in Chicago more often than not, and it has been a while since I updated this blog on the key preservation issues in the city and region. The reigning issue for the last two years has of course been Prentice Women’s Hospital, a breathtaking flower of the union of engineering and architecture designed by Bertrand Goldberg in 1974-75 and slated by Northwestern University to become a vacant lot.

The National Trust made it one of the nation’s 11 Most Endangered Sites last June (I made the announcement) and now the trinity of preservation organizations, the Trust, Landmarks Illinois, and Preservation Chicago, are promoting both a series of CTA subway ads for Prentice and a contest to SHOW PRENTICE SOME LOVE for Valentine’s Day! My job is to wear my Save Prentice t-shirt at major sites across the globe and I got a good start at Macchu Pichu last month. Planning on Angkor Wat next month.

The subway ads are cool, especially since they coincide with the L platform ads for the new building at Rush, which focus on its four-lobed shape and the ease and convenience and quality of care this floorplan provides. And it is the same floorplan designed for the same reason at Prentice. What is old is new again. As I said before.

Quibble a bit? Yes the new one is bigger and the lobes more attenuated and the plan more focused on private rooms because that is the way the sick roll in 2012. But the ideation and justification are the same.

Now we just have to get Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s attention and see if he wants another tax-free vacant lot a block away from North Michigan Avenue.

Speaking of North Michigan Avenue, the Wrigley Building is finally being landmarked after 25 years – I recall collecting petitions from famous architects and historians and urbanists back in 1987 when it was first proposed for landmark status. It took a new non-Wrigley owner to finally make it official.

The Tribune ran an editorial last week about the travesty of the Soldier Field rebuilding in 2003 and used an illustration of Landmarks Illinois’ 2001 alternate plan that would’ve given the Bears a field big enough to host a Super Bowl. I guess we don’t need a Super Bowl, what with G-8 coming and all…nice to know that Landmarks Illinois’ great alternative use plans are still being remembered. Wonder how our plans for Prentice will be looked at years from now?

What else? Tomorrow we are having a discussion on historic preservation “This is not my Beautiful House: Historic Preservation and People’s History” at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum with activist and researcher Roberta Feldman, National Trust Sites V.P. Estevan Rael-Galvez, architecture critic Lee Bey, and longtime preservationist Mary Means. I am the moderator. I will be moderate again this May when New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger and Lee Bey (again) hang out in Harry Weese’s 17th Church of Christ Scientist for the Chicago Modern More Than Mies series, also coordinated by the inestimably talented Christina Morris of the Chicago field office. I wrote so many posts on Modernism last year because it is the HOT thing in preservation and shows no sings of slowing down.

even in Lima. Oops – not Chicago…

yum. oh, that’s palo alto..

Speaking of Lee Bey, he posted on the collapse of a fabulous city-owned terra cotta building last week in Auburn-Gresham at 79th and Halsted. I knew the building because it was part of the neighborhood tour we designed down there in 2009 and it ticked a lot of people off that the city owned it for a decade and let it fall down.

Up in Park Ridge they finally have a landmarks ordinance and managed to save the Alfonso Iannelli studio building, after having lost one of the Byrne-Iannelli Cedar Court houses four years ago (blog here.) Here is a photo of the interior of Iannelli’s studio during its heyday, thanks to the unparalleled David Jameson of ArchiTech Gallery.

I visited one of my favorite “mystery” buildings in Chicago, The Forum at 43rd and Calumet. It has a fabulous second-floor theater space that is remarkably intact and is going to be redeveloped by Bernard Loyd, who is doing similar work on 51st Street. The mystery of The Forum, built in the 1890s, is that no one has yet found an original permit or architect for this neighborhood assembly hall, not dissimilar to Thalia Hall in Pilsen or Yondorf Hall in Old Town in inspiration. We have tons of information about its later use as a vital piece of Bronzeville culture, hosting shows by Nat Cole and others and eventually becoming a home to the black Elks. I thought it might be Patton & Fisher and did a bit of research a year ago but no luck. The cool thing about it is that it is almost the ONLY historic cultural venue left on 43rd Street.

The other cool thing is that Bernard is employing 21st century heritage conservation in his projects. He didn’t call it that, but I was struck by how he was integrating gastronomy, cultural performance and other aspects of intangible heritage into his programs for revitalizing buildings.

This is the same thing we are doing in Peru and China, and it is the basis for the discussion we are having at the Global Heritage Fund about moving into the next phase of heritage conservation, a multi-level interactive development platform that unites the attractions of past and present cultural expressions to actualize a diversified (sustainable) economy that reinforces existing cultural and social investments while enhancing external attractions. Historic buildings revitalized with programs based on local cultural traditions attract both local and outside investment and tend to be more stable over time. That’s true in Chicago and Pasadena and it is true in Pingyao and Cusco.

chicago

pasadena

pingyao

cusco
Darn. I was trying to focus on Chicago and no sooner do I get to 43rd Street than I’ve gone global again. But now you know why.

Heritage and the New Economy

December 23, 2011

“The success of preserving our global cultural patrimony is not merely a function of financial or economic investment, but requires implementation of a methodology encompassing several essential and inter-related factors that lays the foundation for long-term sustainability.”

“Over time, the challenge is not just the implementation of world-class conservation, but to invest in local conservation and economic capacity.”

The above quote from the Global Heritage Fund’s 2008 white paper “Sustainable World Heritage Preservation in Developing Economies” epitomizes the 21st century approach to heritage conservation (historic preservation) that combines earlier curatorial and architectural standards with an advanced understanding of political and social economy. This advanced understanding is one of the reasons I was pleased to accept the role as Chair of the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Heritage Fund this fall.

Yet there is a still a steep learning curve for many who see heritage conservation and economic development as separate or even oppositional realms. The stereotype of the preservationist standing in front of the bulldozer or trying to craft a museum out of the town’s oldest house dies hard for many. Preservationists are motivated by history and architecture and other ennobling attributes unrelated to how our economy works. They stand in the way of progress.

Of course, this has changed over the last fifty or sixty years. For 35 years we have had tax credits for preservation, which has won over much of the private development community. Indeed, the last 20 years those of us who want to save buildings have generally had more to fear from billion-dollar not-for-profit universities and hospitals. The big Chicago preservation issue – Prentice Hospital – for the last two years is a classic example: demolition is being pushed by one of the best capitalized entities in the state (a billion in cash!) on a site two blocks from the most expensive real estate between Manhattan and San Francisco that they DON’T PAY TAXES ON.

is that another vacant block in front? And another behind?
But see what I just did? I made an economic argument. I didn’t say a thing about architecture or history or beauty or character. I’m not an economist (although my 2008 blog on teardown economics was lauded by those in the know) but I study it and I consult with economists regularly on heritage conservation issues.

I don’t do this because I fell in love with old buildings and slowly but surely learned that I needed to make economic arguments. I did it from Day One, which I seem to recall was February 22, 1983 when I got my first job in “historic preservation” and that day the entire Illinois Congressional delegation introduced the first heritage area bill to the U.S. Congress, a bill which had NO REGULATION and defined its goals as a COMBINATION of preservation, economic development and natural area conservation. Saving buildings has been an economic enterprise and economic imperative ever since, so excuse me if I don’t “get” the people who don’t “get” that.

But it occurred to me recently in discussions with GHF economists and staff about metrics for our international heritage conservation projects, that the world has seen the evolution of a new mode of heritage and economy over the last thirty years. Donovan Rypkema has been one of the outstanding voices in this discussion for the same period of time.

With the advent of the National Trust’s Main Street program in the late 1970s and heritage areas in the early 1980s, a movement that HAD BEEN heavily inflected by curatorial ideas about history and architecture recognized the nature of the social economy and thus learned to balance – and enhance – their desire to save buildings with political and economic reality. Preservation was one-quarter of the Main Street formula, and a similar fraction of the heritage area formula.

For the purist, this seemed a retreat, but in fact it was a massive gain because it made heritage conservation a legitimate form of economic development. And so it has been for my ENTIRE CAREER. And it isn’t just tourism – heritage conservation brings real, local economic development: you can’t outsource construction and building maintenance jobs, for example. I’ve blogged endlessly about the incredible investment my community makes in rehabilitating historic buildings because it enhances property values and tax revenues. Sure we get tourism, but there is an economic rationale to preserving buildings that is not dependent on tourism – and it is a longer-lasting benefit than a strip mall or most corporate relocations.

But there is still cognitive dissonance out there, partly because it flouts traditional models studied by economists and business schools, not to mention architects and conservation professionals. The traditional not-for-profit model relies on philanthropy and membership. The traditional business model relies on capital and revenue streams, inventory, distribution and even research and development.

Of course, today many not-for-profits have massive revenue streams, whether they are museum gift shops, tuition, Medicare payments or sponsored events. But the fundamental model has never been adjusted despite the fact that for three decades, all over the world, we have a newly emergent model that is neither pure philanthropy nor pure business. It is heritage-focused and it is perhaps an inextricable aspect of the post-industrial consumer economy.

Heritage conservation preserves unique aspects of place and in the process can monetize those characteristics for a consumer economy both as an attraction for visitors and also – more importantly – as an impulse for ongoing, place-based investment of human energy and capital. Traditional metrics have become more sophisticated in terms of tourism, and we can quantify the spin-offs of significant investments in local infrastructure, including buildings. For over 15 years I have shown students the work that David Listokin did at Rutgers where he demonstrated how preservation kept DOLLARS local, especially in contrast to projects like highway construction. Main Street economists have been showing the same thing for decades: heritage conservation investment penetrates local jobs, income and tax revenues deeper and longer than franchise development that effectively “keeps” a bigger piece of each capital investment away from the local economy.

Despite political rhetoric, there is a governmental aspect as well, since government has always been inextricable from economics. There would be no University of Phoenix or other for-profit schools without government student loans. There would be no strip mall investment without government roads. Heritage conservation is similar, and part of it is regulatory.

Consumer economies are middle-class economies, driven by people who think they know what they want and deserve. Most obviously this social economy is manifest in simple acquisition: iPads, automobiles, deodorants and shoes. But the physical environment itself is a consumer product as well. Again, we have the obvious impacts, like big kitchens and stainless appliances and granite countertops. But we also have ones that require regulation, like clean air and tolerable amounts of mercury in our food. Middle class people expect to be able to choose those things as well. And they often choose historic buildings. I live in Oak Park, which doesn’t allow you to demolish historic buildings. The result of that regulation? One of the most popular neighborhoods to live in in the United States, as shown here. Despite February.

Any industry that can beat Chicago February is a viable industry. So the regulation works as an investment in the consumer economy. Most diatribes against regulation are actually diatribes against “new” regulation because the key to any successful capitalist endeavor is limiting uncertainty. Long ago industry got used to figuring out how to get coal out of mile-deep seams WITHOUT ten-year olds. It just requires an updated business model and sense of certainty about costs and revenues. Which is the same calculation the Oak Park homebuyer is making.

Heritage conservation offers a kind of 21st century consumer-based economy that is more certain and predictable than those dependent either on the revenue of novelty that so often drives the private sector or the revenue of charity that so often drives the philanthropic center. Here is how it works: a seed charitable grant starts up a conservation project, which injects a sense of certainty and purpose into the local economy and environment. The investment attracts other investment, and the character of the investment – long-term; identity-defining; culturally significant – works to limit the kind of short-term investments that can short-circuit long-term development goals by playing pop and fizzle.

Heritage conservation allows a community to identify key significant aspects of its character and invest in those aspects for the long term and it does so through a combination of governmental, for-profit and not-for-profit entities. Many not-for-profits today – and for the last thirty years – are effectively spurs to redevelopment. We are familiar with neighborhood development organizations (where I started my job search in 1983) and chambers of commerce and tourism boards that serve this function. In fact, heritage conservation organizations are increasingly occupying this essential economic and community development role, because their model for development is inherently more sustainable at both the micro (nothin’ greener than the building already there) and macro (development in line with local character last longer than development in contrast to local character) levels.

More importantly – and this takes us back the GHF quote at the beginning – heritage conservation effects a kind of local economic restructuring that is more sustainable. Analagous to the “economic restructuring” pillar of Main Street, investments in conservation develop local skills. We had a great example of this when I met with the community in Las Cruces four weeks ago: they proposed creating a center of local adobe expertise – they have one of the international experts – and training, meaning that the effort to preserve local heritage creates doesn’t just create jobs and investment. It creates capacity and knowledge – the true foundations of 21st century economy.

Las Cruces and environs

November 23, 2011

Last week at the invitation of alumna Hema Pandya and the good people at New Mexico State University/Doña Ana Community College, I traveled to Las Cruces, New Mexico to give a lecture “Preserving Community” (Subtitle was Sustainability and global issues on existing and Historic Buildings in the United States, China and Peru).

I like Jerri Wells’ poster – I look like Godzilla



Hema Pandya, Dr.Margaret Lovelace, Luis Rios and Matt Byrnes

The lecture was well-attended, even a City Councilman was there. I tied together a variety of disparate experiences and locales by using the IMPROVED definition of sustainability that my colleague Frances Whitehead introduced me to. You remember the old Venn diagram where sustainability is the sweet spot with the orbs of Social, Economic and Environmental sustainability? I learned from Frances that we need a fourth globe: Cultural. And in fact this is how heritage conservation fits into it.


The problem with looking only at Social, Environmental and Cultural is that you solve sustainability only mechanistically, and only in the here and now. (Which means it isn’t really sustainability, which is about maintaining things for the next generation.) It is the same elision that gave us urban renewal, which is to say it is kind of inorganic chemistry for the environment, rather than biology.

Heritage conservation sustains not merely our social (living, working, gathering, playing), economic (producing, consuming, exchanging) and environmental (breathing, eating, etc.) but also those subtle humanisms that we can never eliminate, things like soul and identity and love and attachment. How we know where we are and why we want to continue to be there.

Rio Grande Theatre, Main Street, Las Cruces

But enough of the high theory, let’s get down to the brass tacks, or in the case of Las Cruces, the adobe and vigas. Here stands Hema and my brother Tom next to a marvelous doorway in Mesilla, which is contiguous with Las Cruces but designed around a traditional Mexican church zócalo in the days before the Gadsden Purchase (1854).


check out the beams above the door – hand-hewn it seems

now that is adobe

There is of course, a lot of the fake stuff – frame buildings covered with some sort of cementitious render and false vigas to ape the look. A house style, like they do up in Santa Fe.

But we had a good meeting with officials and preservation leaders in Mesilla, where they have had some challenges, like this adobe bungalow that is slowly losing its historic fabric and residential classification in one of those long, drawn-out, disingenuous projects that slowly but surely erode local character. You can always tell those projects because their own character shifts day by day. First it is an addition to the back of a house (on a corner). Then full-scale bathrooms go in. Then it suddenly takes advantage of possible commercial zoning. Then another wall goes. Eventually the owner will reveal the project’s true intention and the town will have lost the better part of an historic building.

The zócalo in Mesilla is great, what with the twin-steepled brick church and the Thunderbird, the oldest brick structure in New Mexico, and the Billy the Kid Gift Shop, which I remember from a childhood visit here in 1975, and of course La Posta, the former post office and restaurant which is expanding dramatically, giving us these unique views of melding ancient and modern construction techniques:


the contractor said his job was either to make old wood look new or make new wood look old


traditional ceiling form with modern ductwork. The ceiling form reminds me of the ground floor rooms in medieval Irish castles, formed by baskets made of sticks and then packed with a mud wattle.

The challenges in Mesilla and Las Cruces are familiar to many. Partial embrace of community character, preference for new over old, incomplete apprehension of the heritage conservation process, which as my lecture showed, is a community-based evaluation process that seeks to maintain cultural connections found in the environment and in its caretakers. Residents were frustrated that master adobe plasterer Pat Taylor, a local resident, found more business OUTSIDE of town (around the world) than in the town itself.

our meeting in Mesilla

Las Cruces also has the challenge of its Main Street, which features the lovely Rio Grande theater pictured above and below, but suffers from the emptiness and abandonment by both public and private entities following a classic 1970s pedestrian-mall treatment.

There is also an interpretive sculpture of a church that was replaced by a bank. It nicely frames the Organ Mountains from the Rio Grande theater, but it is a little misleading, since the church was about 80 yards away and facing a different direction.

City Councilman Greg Smith is a big promoter of preservation and Main Street, and there is hope, thanks to the arts anchors at the north end of the street, including the Branigan Cultural Center with its great 1935 WPA-style mural and the private Black Box Theater.

We also toured the lovely Depot-Alameda historic district, starting with the 1910 Maud Witherspoon house, a uniquely high-ceiling variant on the adobe style. In fact, many of the homes in the district evince Eastern styles but use local materials and techniques. Here is a sampling:




This is the historic Women’s Improvement Association building

And we saw the 1935 Courthouse High School, which is being rehabilitated with a strong local heritage element throughout the building and its curriculum.

Finally a hike up to Dripping Stream in the Organ Mountains with Hema and Matt Byrnes. There is a 1910 TB Sanitorium preserved up there.



Thanks to Hema, Matt, Luis Rios, Dr. Lovelace, Irene Oliver Lewis, John Sullivan, Eric Liefield, Greg Smith, Lori Grumet, Clark Meyers, David Rockstraw and all of the others who made me so welcome in Las Cruces.

Community Planning in Heritage Conservation

October 17, 2011

I recently became Chair of the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Heritage Fund, an organization I have been involved with for almost four years. GHF has patented a Preservation by Design® approach to saving World Heritage in developing countries. The approach follows to some extent the disciplinary boundaries we regularly bridge in teaching historic preservation: Design, Planning, Conservation and History. For GHF’s Preservation by Design®, the four are Planning, Conservation, Community Development and Partnerships. The emphasis on Community Development and Partnerships is key to the modern practice of heritage conservation.

One of the things my international practice in heritage conservation has taught me is that many other nations draw a sharper line between heritage conservation and community development. If conserving historic buildings is seen as a form of development, it is usually only conceived in terms of tourism development. Rarely do you find the understanding we have developed in North America that saving historic buildings is a vital community development and empowerment tool. A case in point is our new Preservation 10X plan of the National Trust for Historic Preservation which makes “Sustainable Communities” the first of four thematic foci for the Trust going forward.

Five years ago I was asked by the State Department to consult with preservationists in Tustan, a fascinating archaeological site in the western Ukraine. My primary (and primal) suggestion was to do a community planning workshop with local residents to determine how they might appreciate the site, how they might benefit from the site, and how the interpretation and potential development of the site could impact the community in a positive way. The suggestion was well received, but it was entirely foreign to the concept of the “heritage conservation” sector.

Even many western European nations define heritage conservation as a distinct sector; distinct from planning, distinct from architecture, distinct from economic development. In our current work in Lima, Peru, we are attempting to introduce urban agriculture to the Cercado, the World Heritage Center of Lima. In so doing, we toured the area with the lead urban agriculture planner and the architect responsible for the Cercado’s historic fabric. It quickly became apparent that these two officials didn’t speak the same “language” when it came to the built environment. Our added value, as outsiders, is to bridge their bureaucratic and cultural boundaries and find new synergies.

Our culture values innovation and cross-boundary thinking, but many societies – I would hazard most societies – take a more defensive approach, safeguarding various disciplines. Even the term “heritage conservation sector” sort of freaked me out at an international conference in Sweden in 2007. Why would the sector define itself – and in this case its financial metrics – in contrast to other sectors? Isn’t that ghettoization? I have always seen the choice to conserve the historic built environment not as a luxury or specialty, but an essential component of community development.

There is a peculiarly American approach to problem-solving that more easily shrugs off cultural norms and categories. It is why we have Silicon Valley (where the GHF is located, perhaps not coincidentally). Perhaps it is the relative thinness of our cultural history; it is certainly an American pride in ‘thinking outside the box.”

At the same time, building conservation as a community development tool dates back to at least the advent of “the new preservation” in the 1960s in terms of historic neighborhoods and the 1970s advent of the National Trust’s Main Street program for commercial districts. In the United States, tax advantages for preservation have been around a full 35 years, so the recognition of this aspect of heritage conservation is deep here.

My most direct experience with Global Heritage Fund’s Preservation by Design® approach has been in Pingyao, which I have written about extensively before here and here. In remote archaeological sites like Chauvin de Huantar in Peru and Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, the opportunities for community development are more limited, but no more so than Tustan. Santiago Giraldo of GHF has worked with the community on the hiking trail that takes you to Ciudad Perdida and hosts a variety of businesses that cater to tourists. The challenge, of course, is to insure that the development of the community is not solely dependent on tourism.

My work in Weishan, China with the Center for US-China Arts Exchange and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is emblematic of this. The goal there is to conserve historic buildings and landscapes and intangible heritage to serve BOTH tourism development AND the local community. So far, as I reported to International ICOMOS conferences in 2007 and 2011, the goal is being met. The North Gate, a 1390 national landmark in the heart of Weishan Old City, is now being used for community events and music as well as serving as a tourist destination. Thus heritage conservation serves both transient and permanent communities.


Ultimately, what we are doing when we preserve buildings is preserve community. One of the great mischiefs of High Modernist architecture and planning (which led to the modern preservation movement) was that it believed you could design a community from scratch and that it would function better than an existing one. One of the great strengths of heritage conservation is that it recognizes that communities can only be sustainable when they preserve and make functional those elements of their heritage which they value.

One day a 27-year old preservation planner pulled his yellow Nova over in Humboldt Park, Chicago, and wrote this down:

“Landmarks serve a community by providing a point of reference, an element of identity, and a source of pride. The community serves landmarks by providing for their protection, interpretation and enhancement. Our built environment is a vital reference for our past, and a foundation for future growth.”

Kid was right.


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