Archive for August, 2014

Sustainable Development

August 23, 2014

Sustainability has been a popular buzz word for quite a while now, and the basic meaning is pretty clear: do things in such a manner that you can continue to do them.

Trail 20 huts

When it comes to natural resources, it means using them in a way that does not deny the next generation the opportunity to use them. When it comes to economics, it means a system of effort and reward that can bring prosperity to the next generation, not just the current one. When it comes to society, it means that social structures, human rights and livable communities are likewise structured in a way that they can be passed on to the next generation. You get the basic idea: Do things in a way that allows you to keep doing them.

hutong-tr37

There is a fourth pillar of sustainability, and that is culture. This implies that you need to create systems and structures of exchange and production that work in concert with local cultures. This is why various colonial attempts to civilize other parts of the world throughout history don’t work and aren’t sustainable: they try to replace local culture. Even if you offer people better environment, economics and society, you can’t do that without considering culture or it won’t work.
diagram-four-well-beings

We tend to focus on the environmental side of sustainability – using scarce world resources in a manner that does not deny future generations. Obviously this favors things like renewable energy sources, efficient agricultural practices, mitigating the negative effects of our altered ecosphere, etc. Secondly, we do seem to “get” the economic side of the equation: how do we craft our production consumption and exchange in a way that allows it to continue for our kids?
lissys-ag08s
or not

Now this becomes a problem in economics because many of our financial institutions and systems for the creation and maintenance of corporate capital function on a short-term basis, not the long-term basis implied by the quest for sustainability. Profitability is measured in three month chunks and stock markets careen up and down by the minute with the discipline and patience of a pubescent child.
396739_567749758592_721580886_n
I totally get it. I don’t want to grow up either.

So, what are good types of sustainable economic development? This is a question I wrestle with a lot because at Global Heritage Fund (Join us now!) we don’t just conserve heritage sites – we insist on projects that involve the local community and provide them with new economic opportunities.
DSCN1682
Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

These can range from hands-on training as stone conservators or masons, new hospitality jobs as areas open to tourism, and a host of economic spinoffs as a heritage site becomes an attraction not only for visitors but for residents. Significant sites also generate public investment, further bolstering the local economy.
Trail 8 cook
One of the locally owned homestays on the trail to Ciudad Perdida, where local revenues have grown from almost zero to $27m annually in the last decade.

Now in my work in preservation in the United States over the last 32 years, I spent a lot of time talking about the economic benefits of reusing old buildings, the economic impact of historic districts (its all about the externalities! – check out this one.) Historic sites are inherently the most sustainable form of development, and the logic is both straightforward and universal.
Dtheater other side

Think of standard forms of economic development. A factory. An office building, a shopping mall, a farm or a power plant. Even a prison. These are all things that produce jobs for the local economy. They are investments that create profits and usually leverage the public investment that is handmaiden to all forms of economic development.
oil refin 135s
Oil refinery. Let’s not forget oil refineries.

Now these are REAL forms of economic development if you listen to some folks, because they create a lot more jobs and economic impacts than some sappy historic site, right? And for the hormone-addled denizens of stock markets, they are great because that big impact is monetized quickly. Then what?
factory demoS

Well, then the factory closes and you tear it down. And the jobs leave. In fact, the famous 2005 Supreme Court case – Kelo – that upheld the right of governments to condemn private land and turn it over to other private developers for economic development purposes has some very ironic facts at the heart of the case. You can see my 2009 blog about it here. The City of New London condemned a bunch of houses to make way for a multipurpose development around a Pfizer factory. In 2005 their right to do so was upheld and by 2009 the factory and thousands of jobs were gone. That is not sustainable development.

If jobs pick up and move quickly in New England, imagine how much easier it is to do that in the places where Global Heritage Fund works, the parts of the world that REALLY need jobs and economic development?
group w kids

I have a colleague who worked for some big tech firms as they moved their factories from California to various parts of Asia, and they kept moving every few years. There was no factory that lasted even a generation, not to mention two generations.

taj mahal2

So, if the historic site pictured above generates economic activity, will it be torn down and the jobs moved to another town? What do you think?

nice view to N gate

To some extent we have accepted the 21st century economic reality, creative destruction, but the interesting thing to me is that developing heritage sites works against this trend. Heritage sites can not only provide jobs for their conservation and tourism, they can become externalities that continue to contribute to local economies as long as they survive. They enrich a place. If they are well conserved, they will last generations.
torres workers wall

That is sustainable development.

Mediation and the Myth of Original States

August 11, 2014

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If this is a brain teaser or rhetorical question, you’ve already heard it wrong. It’s a false choice that exists only in the mediation of the mind and nowhere in reality.

birth ganges
Birth of the Ganges, Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. Historians argue whether the yogic figure in the center is Arjuna or Bhagiratha. Michael Rabe says both. In most situations, the answer is not either or but both and.

All mediations between reality and cognition distort, and the first distortion is the myth of categories with impermeable boundaries. I blogged about this two years ago in “Categories Are Your Frenemies.” Categories are like a learning device and the mature mind realizes that their boundaries are permeable, while the immature mind finds comfort in the security of their permanence. Collect a whole bunch of (false) categories and you can cook up an ideology.

eure pflichtS

Welcome to Time Tells, and indeed Time is the invisible fourth dimension that allows categorization to occur. I am fond of saying all ideologies are wrong because they are static while the reality of society, politics and economics is dynamic. Then you have the whole problem of linear versus circular time (which I also dealt with in 2012 here.) but let’s stay outside of quantum metaphysics today and focus on one of my favorite words: Mediation.

IMG_4908
Nature and artifice or just pure mediation?

We live in a media-saturated world and both children and adults are lambasted for how much time they spend staring at screens devouring all sorts of “media.” These screens have been growing both massive and tiny at the same time (which proves my first point) but much of the content remains very similar to the old print world, the world which saw panic over both comic books and television in the decade BEFORE I WAS BORN. The main distinction is that we now have user-created content and crowdsourced content, and of course the endless scroll of “Comments,” which formerly had to be hand-written on bathroom stalls.
IMG_4900
The modern world is so much more transparent, don’t you think?

But to focus on content, as the ideologists do, is to ignore the mediation. To mediate is to create a bridge between reality and its multivalent perceptions, and it is the nature of such bridges that they frame reality on the one side and thus perception on the other.

Felton bridge2s
See? Felton. It’s a landmark.

The problem is that people forget the frame is there – they naturalize the mediation and feel in direct touch with reality. We know that we “frame” arguments and that we can’t trust news sources (except for comedy outlets – how did that happen?) but we still tend to forget about the frame. This is a mistake. You have to know how the lens works otherwise everything will remain upside-down.

guggenheim int downbS

Of course it is much easier when you can see the frame – we know to doubt newspapers and websites, because these are “media” which mediate. The frames of religion and ideology are equally apparent. The harder frames are cultural, so ingrained in our Erziehung that their mediation is invisible. Successful ideologies and religions align with the invisible cultural norms, taking advantage of their invisibility. Thus “normal” is aligned with a particular power structure, whose frames vanish in the social and linguistic everyday.

IMG_5111

While it would be fun to spray the fungos of bald ideologies all over the outfield I think it more useful to try to connect with the sliders and de-cipher some of the normalities we assume as original states and find their specific – and fantastically modern – historical origins.

family at hut-3

One of my favorites is the nuclear family, a post-World War II construct that maximizes consumerism by insuring that other relatives stop living at home as they had for all of human history, thus selling more mortgages and washing machines and toasters and BBQ grills.

50s kitch truman museS

Another is cheap energy. We think of energy being cheap before the 1973 oil embargo, which it was, but its cheapness doesn’t stretch that far back – it was expensive in the Victorian era, which is why the buildings and interiors of that era – that you often see in house museums – had a functional purpose of saving energy costs.

EVERY 19TH
Says it all

Another one, which I blogged about last year, is the museum. This one has more of a provenance, but it is younger than the United States.

brit mus ancient
Lotta frames here too

Buildings to house artifacts and display them to the public has always had an aura of public service, although its emergence in the late 18th century with the advent of modern capitalism suggests a consumer motivation as well, one that ultimately revealed itself at the Met in the 1960s when Thomas Hoving made the mummies dance.

nouveau rm orly
Ceci n’est pas une Chambre à coucher

I have been very involved in the question of house museums through my role with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. House museums are even newer, dating from the middle of the 19th century, although their real explosion (to some 15,000 nationwide) happened in the same post-World War II era as the nuclear family, which explains part of their plight.

Lyndhurst f rvr bestS
Lyndhurst, New York

See that postwar era had several things going for it that helped house museums – cheap energy (a rare 30-year blip in human history), a resurgent automobile culture (without the icky multigenerationalisms of the Grapes of Wrath), a booming domestic tourist economy (that coincides roughly with the cheap energy blip) and a triumphalist patriotism that encouraged investigations into American heritage and history.

Leon's custardS
happy days

The house museum became a cultural trope – thousands of small communities across the U.S. got involved in historic preservation because they wanted to save a significant local building, and in more cases than not, the proposed use of the site was as a museum, both in the Mount Vernon sense of a glimpse into a former era, but also as the local historical archive – a place to collect local history. This gave it a secondary purpose beyond tourism, although with limited means of support.

hist socy archivesS

The house museum became normalized, so we didn’t notice it’s daft economics when the context changed. Buildings need maintenance, but you can skate 10 or 30 years until things get really bad, and when it comes to buildings, that means a big capital bill. Local taxing authorities are usually the only ones capable of footing these kinds of bills, because the traditional house museum model requires about an 80% operating subsidy beyond ticket sales.

4Mile Inn 1880s
especially if it is 4 miles out of town

If the first museum was state-sponsored and the first American house museum sponsored by a (uniquely American) charity Board, today we have also become quite used to the commercialization of the not-for-profit sector, despite the fact that this phenomenon is younger than me. I grew up reading ad-free Mad magazine, watching commercial-free public television, and going to museums that had never had a blockbuster show or hung a banner from their facade.

Met stepsS
When Thomas Hoving became Met director in 1967, a satirical cartoon appeared showing banners on the building. Then this satirical fantasy became reality and now everyone does it.

aic 1206s

The above image would not be normal 40 years ago, but it looks normal today. The frame has shifted. The house museums that make it are the ones with a serious multi-platform commercial operation, or at least a programmatic one that mobilizes a large enough consumer base however that base is monetized.

montpe giftS
Pens cost ten bucks. Ain’t no hand-knitted potholders here

It seems we lose a sense of the mediation within a generation or so, as context shifts. What little remains visible of the mediating frame is mistaken as the residue of an original state, rather than merely the residue of its more recent iteration. There are no original states anymore than there is an answer to the false chicken-egg dichotomy.

VM infinity mirrorS
a selfie is the image of an image, selected by the content’s imagination

Perhaps the most deceptive frame of all is again the one implied in the title of this blog: Time Tells. Because in our particular cultural context, we tend to see history in a progressive trajectory. Not only does this contradict traditional cultural paradigms (e.g. South and Southeast Asia) where time is circular and repetitive, but it is also a shockingly modern concept, arising out of the same “Enlightenment” that gave us pretty much most of our modern academic curriculum.

georgina school INT
also Canada

We can also thank the Enlightenment for reinvigorating Science, because that does offer a provable alternative to the endless confusion of cultural frames that distort our perceptions – the experiment must be replicable, reducing the effect of context. But you know what else the Enlightenment gave us? History.

medieval scholars
What, now I gotta think about it? Can’t I just copy it like before??

This is not to deny Herodotus, Thucycdides, The Venerable Bede or even the Pentateuch, but the modern sense of history as a social science divorced from morality or divine agency, is really an Enlightenment project. (Thucydides is only translated into a Latin a year before the fall of Byzantium, and thus his rediscovered realpolitik falls in the Renaissance – and he only makes it into English in 1628)

collos in82
Recognize this? It is a stone quarry from the Reniassance

I like bringing up these historical contradictions because we so often lose sight of mediation and we so often think we can see original states, but we can’t. Each of them is a cultural construct, a frame that excludes as well as it includes, a mediation that distorts as much as it perceives. I don’t like to see history used as a justification for a contemporary power struggle, but that is how it usually happens.

Solomon morris washgS
Haym Solomon and Robert Morris, who financed the American Revolution. They never got paid back. Turns out we have ALWAYS had a national debt problem.

So where do I get off thinking I can see through this? Where is my original state? Aren’t I a prisoner of my culture and my DWEM power structure? Actually, the science is simple. I’m the guy in the infinity mirror up there – I don’t need to stand outside the Milky Way to see it, but I need to rigorously compare the frames to each other so we can identify what in our current frame is a residue of an earlier frame.

greenbaum vw2
look out

Time Tells, not by revealing an original state or a “true” category, but by exposing and contrasting the accumulation of mediations, like an archaeological pit that allows us to see the context – the chicken bones and broken china and coprolites – behind the monuments.

X HY new pitS

There is of course a corresponding area of inquiry here: the perception of the exotic or the Other, which plays into much of what we do in this heritage field – especially in terms of tourism. But that will have to wait for another day. And another mediation.

taco bite truckS
Divvys and food trucks. It is your duty to support them. Welcome to 2014

Victoriana California

August 7, 2014

I have written before about how I am surrounded by Victorian architecture in Northern California, and this week we made it up to Humboldt County where you get it in spades. The capper is of course the Carson Mansion in Eureka, which has inhabited every architectural style book I have owned since 1983.
Carson HouseAs

This over-the-top horror vacui of a composition dates from 1884 and in my first architectural style book it illustrated both Queen Anne and Eastlake styles (it also supposedly embodies Stick and Italianate) and is still the centerpiece of Eureka, which blossomed as a lumber town in the Gilded Age and saved just enough of it for a critical mass downtown, despite a godawful prison and too many parking lots.
Pink LadyCs
The famed Pink Lady across from the Carson Mansion. It’s for sale!
White house rowS
A row of Shingley Queen Annes on 2nd Street

Eureka trades on this history and did save a reasonable chunk of the old downtown with some very fine big Italianate and Queen Anne blocks from the late 19th century. This one has an excellent new tourist center (beer on draft – how can you have a tourist center without beer on draft??)
Yellow Ital blockS

McDonald BldgBs
Now that’s my kind of McDonald’s

Big green Ital blockS

Corner shingle sideS
Shingle Style influence here, with a nice rounded glass oriel

Eclectic frontS
The plaque on this one even says “Eclectic,” which is Architectural Historian for “I give up.”

They trade on the Victorian so much in Eureka that 25 years ago they rebuilt a long-gone San Francisco house from what is now the Financial District. Thankfully the sign and guides note that it is a recreation.
Carter House Inn RecreS

We were walking past the Carson Block and noticed they were exposing some of its original skin…
Carson TC exposeS
That’s terra cotta!
Carson skin exposesS
and pressed metal bays…

So I went back Monday and ran into my old friend Bill Hole, who was helping with what appears to be a great restoration.
Carson Block w craneS

A few more shots of historic Eureka
Carter House Inn hotelS
Carter House Inn Hotel – amazing place
Nice false frontS
old-timey clocks, brick sidewalks, the whole shebang
View of downtownS

Shingle corner bldgS
Horse carriage. Forgot that part of the whole shebang

Blue Vic cottS
fine lookin’ cottage
Rundown Class houseS
This one needs work

But wait, there’s more! A few miles down the road there is Ferndale, which I seem to recall was the subject of a coloring book and which featured this building that I also used incessantly in architectural history slide shows:
The Big DoubleAs

Great Inn Vic addS
Bed and breakfasts expand into inns and tourism adds to the “cream” economy – you certainly pass a lot of cows on the road into town.

Fab frontsS

IOOF and2s

Victorian InnS
The Victorian Inn. Says it right there in the name!

Vic Gothi cottgS

This house near the downtown reminds me that there is a strong current of Victorian Gothic in the houses of the North and Lost Coasts of California. As one would expect, you get a slight lag from the East Coast, so Victorian Gothic which peaked in the East in the 1840s is still making itself felt here in the 1850s. After all, it took three months to get here. But get here they did, mostly by boat and they brought so much of their architecture with them that the famed historic town of Mendocino has been used as the set of an East Coast town in multiple movies and TV shows.

mendo front viewS
Mendocino, She Wrote. Why doesn’t the sun rise over the ocean?

Mendocino bay chute remnantsS
Emare-gency, Emare-gency Everybody to get from street!

Spenser Hills 54s
Plenty of 1850s Gothicky houses

nice mendo saltboxS
And a few saltboxes

mendo viewS

The most distinctive feature of the townscape are the ubiquitous water tower- originally headed by windmills that powered the wells below and filled the storage tanks. Almost every house has one, and it adds an interesting atmosphere to the town. The Main drag has plenty of false fronts and of course the hotel, while there are two major house museums in town and plenty of B & Bs.

Mendocino HotelS
Mendocino Hotel

Shops in MendoS

Ford HouseS

maccallum houseS
Verging on the Gothic again. At least in the vergeboards

Kelley House closeS
Kelley changed the spelling of her last name to make it classier

Didjeridoo bestS
This is where we stayed. Could be East Coast if not for the obvious drought

We had wonderful guide who played an 1880s character and took us by the Masonic Hall with its huge (carved from a single Redwood) sculpture of Time and the Maiden.
Guide at MasonicS

Now I could go into the details of historic tourism and the economics of house museums and the decline of the logging industry and so forth, but this was a vacation so I am just going to show a few more pictures of Fort Bragg, a few miles up the Coast from Mendocino.

Fort Bragg strfrtsS

Ft B Golden WestS

Guest House ObliqueS
This is the Guest House. No, really, the name was Guest

Ft B fronts3

Ft B City HallS
City Hall

gothic window houseS

So, for those of you who wondered if I missed Victorian architecture in California…

Oh, you can see my posts extolling the architectural history of Los Gatos and Santa Cruz as well, not to mention Watsonville.