Archive for March, 2013

Tagging Pops: Techno Tempo NorCal 2013

March 28, 2013

Here are the things I want to blog about this week: Driving in Northern California; the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis hit “Thrift Shop”; automated toll collection; and my addiction to my iPhone. How do we tie all this together?
horses on the hill mar2013s
horses maybe? I saw these horses yesterday on my way to work, while driving. And I took the photo with an iPhone. And I was listening to “Thrift Shop” on the radio that morning. Okay, that works.

Driving in Northern California

So, like everywhere else in the world, they have traffic jams and rush hours and traffic reports telling you where the accidents are. But is seems like there are more accidents. I saw a couple last week, and my commute is fairly long so the odds of me seeing one are higher.
this is part of my commute
commute nr PA 280s
this is another part. No, it isn’t always beautiful.
lex res commuteS
commute flowers3s
Okay, I lied. It IS always beautiful.

Now, Californians are of course known for being more laid back and friendly and even disconcertingly intimate to those of us from less evolved parts of the country. And this extends to driving in one striking way: they are enormously polite about “letting you in” when merging or at an intersection. Enormously. Unfailingly. There is one intersection on 17 where the signs actually say that those coming from the left have the right-of-way and won’t stop and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM does, and lets you in. Awesome, Dude!
cutie carS
This is what I mean by “disconcertingly intimate”

On the other hand, they tend to gun it and brake suddenly. Like, really suddenly. Like they have these false hopes that now traffic is moving quickly so they go for broke and then all of a sudden it is like everyone stopped. I guess that is why all the accidents. That and texting or sexting or whatever.
commute 280 00s
Did I mention that EVERY SINGLE CAR is a Prius?
emerson priaeS

Automated Toll Collection

Last week I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and paid $6 cash toll FOR THE LAST TIME EVER. Because now they are forcing automation on toll collecting. You either have a FASTTRAK or FASTPAS or whatever they call it here, or a little camera takes a picture of your license plate and SENDS you the bill. Like when you blow a stop sign or skip a toll booth. In addition to obviously saving labor (hmmm) and speeding up traffic (yay) it also means a cash windfall (d’oh). You buy the fasttrakpas thing and have to load $40 or so on it, which means the toll contractor (do they have governments anymore?) keeps the float on your money until you spend it down. Nothing new here – same deal with my subway pass in Chicago, the fastpastrak we had in Illinois, and so forth. It is not place-specific but it is the techno tempo, which is to say the technology of the times.

golden gate consS
This is so you can compare that famous GGB vermillion with traffic cones and Jersey barriers


When this blog started in 2005 I sometimes complained about technology, and I was sometimes a Luddite, like in that 2007 post about owning an iPod for three days. Or that one from 2006 that is even more lyrical. I love that line about burning coal and endorphins.

I’m sucked in now, six years later. Burning it. I drive a car two hours every day and I have had an iPhone now for in actuality maybe four or five months but in terms of my day-to-day functioning it is more necessary than my gall bladder. It IS my watch and my alarm clock and my parenting device and my primary relationship, really. We still relate to other people, but now our language is not formed simply by air whistling past teeth and palates and lips but also by a million switches on a piece of sand smaller than the space between your finger and your fingernail.

One more quote from me from 2006: “They become an item of identity, and their actual functioning –what they do – is entirely secondary to the fact that you need them with you all of the time. Cell phones are not used for emergency calls or even necessary calls – they are used for identity establishment and as relationship dummies.”

You don’t have to take this as critique – those of us in the Derrida generation are copacetic not only with the shifting sands of time but also the shifting sands of referentiality. Speaking of which (pulling a muscle reaching for a distant segue…)

Thrift Shop

So what about “Thrift Shop?” I loved this song when I first heard it, having never heard of the reasonably famous artist(s) behind it. Hooks, beats, voices, dynamics, it all worked. It was also amazingly 1980 in its anti-consumerist sentiments, something that vanished from popular music sometime between the dissolution of the Clash and the rise of WHAM! Derrida generation but still with that crypto Judeo-Christian morality that infected both hippies and punks. Key Macklemore lyric in this regard:

“Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant (expletive)
I call that getting swindled and pimped
I call that getting tricked by a business
That shirt’s hella dough
And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t”

Wow. Most rap songs are all about getting swindled and pimped and tricked by a business. It seems that mostly pop and rap songs ARE ALL ABOUT extolling the virtues and rising the prices of everything from Patron to Mercedes Benz to the extent that TEN YEARS AGO almost half of the most popular songs mentioned consumer brands BY NAME (Lil’ Kim set the record with 14 placements in one song.) Two years ago a study noted that for every hour you listen to rap/R&B/hip-hop you will get no less than three brand name alcohol references. So this is a bracing counter to the popular punch drunk pablum we are used to. The bottom of the hook is “I only got twenty dollars in my pocket” which is, again, the opposite of the whole gangsta aesthetic. Heck, it is the opposite of pretty much every aesthetic except maybe the old hippie one.

Ah, old hippies. Northern California. The “hella” is of course the key California word, although the sentiment is not because this place is as BESTBUYREINORDSTROMMACYSLOFTGAPOLDNAVYPOTTERYBARNFOREVER21BATH&BODYWORKS as anywhere else in the world. If anything, they are more so because it is high end market. In the valley it is easier to find an Apple store than a McDonald’s (they disguise them too sometimes). I could also probably find you a Tesla or BMW dealership more quickly than Ford or Chevy. Local loco locavorism insures a suite of regional vegan restaurants and cup-at-a-time coffee shops, so it is very ALTERNATIVE but it ain’t anti-consumer.
biofuel oasisS
Popping Tags at the Biofuel Oasis!

So my daughter and I sing along to “Thrift Shop” (I’ll wear your granddad’s clothes, I’ll look incredible) as I drive, guided by the tomtom in my iPhone, past mountains and horses and Teslas and Philz Coffees, not wondering whether what we experience is what was promised thirty years ago, or what it will be like in 30 years, or the meaning of it all or meaning at all, just difference and how technology is what we are and where we are as much as it is an extension of us because like placemaking it is a reciprocal relationship, it is toolmaking but it is making us at the same time. Which I wrote about two years ago here.

Oracle stadia east bayS
I think this speaks for itself. Oracles usually do.


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.


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.


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.



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. 


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.


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.
X drum tower nightS
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.

St. Patrick’s Day

March 18, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day.  Corned beef, beer, parades.  This is an American tradition, not an Irish one, but significant enough among Irish-Americans that these traditions spread back across the ocean to Ireland, where they have been adopted.  This is actually how culture works, which is to say the process is authentic.

Ciudad Perdida: The Urbanism of the lost city

March 15, 2013

A year ago I was teaching a class about cities, about urbanism. The perspective of that class was the history of ideas about modern city planning from the 1890s through the rise of modernism and sprawl in the 1950s to the Jane Jacobs revolution in the 1960s and its continual reverberations to the present day. We read Glaeser, whom I have reviewed before in this blog, and we tended to think of cities in their modern iteration, as large megalopoli built on huge freighters, large trucks, mile-long trains and cars more numerous than bubbles in a champagne glass, their profiles distinguished by skyscrapers recognizable from miles away, their plans defined by a radical manipulation of the natural landscape. Something entirely different from the cowering walled cities of the medieval world. Something defined, as Le Corbusier was wont to do, by fast and effortless modes of transportation.
LA aerial bS
Los Angeles, a couple weeks ago

Think of the postcards of skyscrapers from the 1920s, always with planes flying around them, cars and trucks bustling at their bases, dirigibles docked on their masts. The modern city was about effortless transportation and commerce, about erasing barriers to speed, whether vertical or horizontal. The skyscraper and the highway, massive and modern.
swfc view hand

So it may seem odd that I am thinking of this having just returned from an arduous six-day trek into the Colombian jungles, up and down the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in the Tayrona National Park, to the heritage site of Ciudad Perdida, which of course means Lost City. Trudging along jungle paths with all of your gear in a backpack, passing through indigenous villages far beyond the reach of cell phones and the internet, despite constant rain and humidity and insects (ticks especially – they love me – I am a tick magnet), as far as I have been in a dozen years from civilization, sleeping in hammocks, washing in cold water and cooking by wood fires….
Trail 52 river b
Buritaca River
Trail 20 huts
indigenous village
Trail 43
backpacking up the trail to Ciudad Perdida
Trail 8 cook

This is surely the opposite of urbanism, yes? No. At the end of the third day you climb the 1280 stone steps from the Buritaca River to Ciudad Perdida, an amazing collection of stone terraces and building foundations dating back to the 6th century AD and representing about a thousand years of habitation and rebuilding. The jungle swallowed this city, built by a group we call the Tayrona, but over that millenium this was a city in more than just name, for it had those essential qualities of urbanism I mentioned above.
CP 16 main axis best
The main axis or “chapel” area at Ciudad Perdida
CP 55 grdg stones
detail of flag stone

What these people did was level a section of the rough mountain, build stone walls and fill them with rammed earth, then finish it with huge flagstones. Then atop these terraces which flattened the incredibly jagged and heavily sloped terrain, they build round stone foundations for houses. We have no idea what these houses looked like, but there were hundreds here. Most importantly, the Tayrona connected these flagged terraces and circular foundations up and down the mountainside with a surfeit, a positively luxurious quantity of stone staircases, connecting each platform and house not essentially, but in manifold fashion, to the others. There are sometimes five or more walkways leading off of a platform or terrace.
CP 39 terraces houses
This is a modern house of the shaman or mamo, but it gives an idea
CP 42 pathways
CP 76 nice platform
CP 64 stairs main

These might look like rustic stones, but their function is urban. They make transportation in a jungle, along a jagged mountain, easier. There are no wheels or pack animals, so the stone stairs and pathways create the most efficient and speedy and luxurious method of moving people and goods possible in this environment. The city was built and rebuilt, with terraces covered by another terrace, as seen here:
CP 51 jail

The main axis of platforms shown above has been cleared, but the terraces continue into the jungle and more are being discovered. Conservation has included repairing many of the terraces and staircases, but there are always more, because this city was continually being built and rebuilt. We savor the nature here, with more bird varieties in this one national park than all of the United States and Canada, not to mention frogs and snakes and even jaguars and puma.
CP 61 best

CP 46 cirtcles

CP lichen stair

They estimate a population of perhaps 2000, and the number of terraces and rings (to support buildings) are in the hundreds at least. As you trek the three days up (and two back) you have a typically modern concern about the slash-and-burn agriculture which despoils the jungle, yet at its peak Ciudad Perdida was not surrounded by jungle but by farmed land. The jungle we see today, being destroyed for agriculture, is in fact a secondary growth: when the city was at its height this jungle was already destroyed for agriculture. It was urbanized, which is to say completely altered from its natural state.
Trail 40 indig

Trail 942 slash burn

Trail up i10 village

What Global Heritage Fund has done here through our Project Director Santiago Giraldo and together with the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History, is not only help conserve the site, but help build lodges along the way that provide for the tourists making the trek. They also provide development to the peasants and the indigenous, offering more efficient wood-burning stoves, septic systems, training, education and economic development for local communities. We have built one bridge over the sometimes unpredictable Buritaca River, which serves both the indigenous and peasant communities as well as helping the tourists make the trek with one less slog through the water.
Trail 29 bridge

You can support GHF’s work by donating here. You can also make the trek from Santa Marta through various approved outfitters, and savor a city that is in many ways like no other city – “Lost” perhaps, but sharing with all of our cities the basic tenets of human civilization in a form very different from what we are used to.

CP lodge Romauldo SGCP i main iBest

2015 UPDATE:  It turns out the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta isn’t the only place with lost cities.  Try the whole Amazon rainforest.

Context, Culture, and the Authenticity Fetish

March 4, 2013

One of the themes that I have repeated in this blog over the years: that preservation is a process, not a set of rules, is being born out daily in my work as Executive Director of the Global Heritage Fund (join here!). That is because we deal with a great variety of cultures and contexts across the world, from Asia to the Middle East, from South to North America, and from remote archaeological sites to vernacular villages and cities.
pheakday talking
Pheakday Ngounphon at Banteay Chhmar

The process of historic preservation/heritage conservation is actually quite consistent: Identification, Evaluation, Registration, and Treatment. My old friend Ted Hild of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency used to label it as “hunt ’em, catch ’em, cook ’em and eat ’em,” which is a fun analogy. Fun aside, the point is the process, and what the Burra Charter famously recognized back in 1999 was that while the process can be consistent across continents and cultures, there are really not universal standards for identification, evaluation, registration, and treatment. What a particular culture in a particular context IDENTIFIES as significant may differ – in terms of tangible versus intangible heritage; in terms of social history versus design history: in terms of the stories it deems indelible to the transmission of cultural heritage. The Burra Charter and subsequent protocols have urged us to heed this cultural input at each step of the process: WHAT do you think is important; HOW do you evaluate that importance; WHAT do you do legally or politically to enforce this; and HOW do you treat the resource you have identified, evaluated and registered?
dun yongS copy
heshui callig4
Calligraphy is the highest art form and the most important to preserve, for example

Many cultures prize historic trades and techniques much more that the fabric, the materials of the resource, which we tend to prize in the West. The Japanese Shinto temples are a thousand years old but they are rebuilt each generation using the original tools and techniques of a thousand years ago. We prize the patina and finish of the building that Washington slept in but we see no contradiction in putting it back together with epoxy and nail guns.
221 eave1111s

Today I visited this Japanese building completed in 1991 in Hakone Gardens in Saratoga. It is an “authentic reproduction of a 19th century Kyoto tea merchants’ house and shop.” Timbers for the building were cut with traditional tools and techniques in Japan and it was assembled in the U.S. by Japanese carpenters. No nails. It has no “age value” as fabric or material, but then again those materials have been assembled using ancient methods.
Hakone  Gdns ccS

The basic cultural context issue described here is the question of authenticity. Where does authenticity reside? In the U.S. we avoided that term and used instead “integrity” because it was easier. But “integrity” also fed into our architectural bias, a bias that has both fed our fetishization of architectural authenticity and at the same time EXCLUDED many of our own minority traditions from the process of preservation. We have codified a series of treatments for architecture that, unlike the process, are not consistent across times and cultures.
carlos thropp torSS
mlk monmt clsS
The failing we have had in the U.S. in the 46 years since the creation of the National Register of Historic Places is our tendency to focus on architectural significance. Indeed, arguably our culture has defaulted in the direction of design history, in part because it is easier to SEE and thus identify, but also in part due to our particular preservation history, which has been heavily inflected by architecture and design since the early decades of the 20th century.
pope leighey bdrmS
you make your bed you sleep in it
We are struggling with this issue on the Diversity Task Force at the National Trust for Historic Preservation (join here!). As Vice Chair, I have tried to bring this international perspective – that the contemporary PROCESS of cultural heritage preservation is a way to reclaim the full breadth of our historic cultures – to the Task Force’s work. The implications for outcomes are substantial: we may well call for revision of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Identification, Evaluation, Registration and Treatment. More incisively, we could request that the Secretary of the Interior adopt “authenticity” instead of the less politically challenging “integrity.” One of the reasons that we have focused on architectural design in American preservation is that it is a safe harbor, a politically neutral space, and during the rise of the preservation movement in the 1960s, a call for a Civil Rights Trail as a national heritage area (which we are doing now) would have been extremely contentious.

first McDonalds FRbestS
This is the first McDonald’s (the one in LA is the Ur-McDonald’s), preserving an element of shared culture.
UG RR maywood insS
This is an installation in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Maywood, Illinois, commemorating a long-lost station on the Underground Railroad.

The definition of fetish is the attribution of religious or mystical qualities to inanimate objects. In the western and American tradition, we tend to fetishize the object as opposed to the process. Arguably, one can fetishize the process as well, and indeed the desire to preserve is at base a desire to retain some spiritual qualities of a thing or an act. Our challenge today with our historic process of identification, evaluation, registration and treatment is to determine more precisely how this process can capture the most salient spiritual elements of our cultural inheritance. This is much more than architecture, certainly it is much more than architectural design. If these walls could talk…..
LG Main Street 1890s blockS