Archive for November, 2014

Beyond the Bounds of Conservation

November 20, 2014

I hope you are a member of the organization I run, the Global Heritage Fund.

Our goal is to help save world heritage sites in impoverished regions by activating them as assets for the local community. Our methodology combines Planning, Conservation Science, Partnerships and Community Development, which we term Preservation By Design®. Our goal in our second decade is to make our Community Development more robust and replicable.
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Why? Because that is best for the heritage site – to have the community benefit from a resource that they protect and cultivate just as you would a crop or a precious natural area. Indeed, at several of our sites we have both natural area reserve and a heritage site, which makes sense, since World Heritage inscription covers three categories: Natural, Cultural, and Mixed.
Trail 20 huts

Now traditionally we look at pretty straightforward ways of measuring community development. Jobs. Income. The simple obvious answers for heritage sites include things like local people trained and employed in conservation of a site; local people employed in tourism and hospitality around a site; and indirect benefits of these activities for local business, agriculture, and so forth.
PY Nan st vwS copy

But the more expertise we develop in community development, the more we realize that these numeric metrics are only the tip of the community benefit iceberg. This summer we built a health center on the trail to Ciudad Perdida, the 7-14C Tayrona site in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia, on the Caribbean coast. The site also just received a Global Vision Award from Travel & Leisure magazine (it is on my desk right now – the award that is)
GHFCP4 Building a Medical Center
cp_completed_health_shelter

A couple of years ago we built a bridge over the Buritaca River at another site on the three-day hike to Ciudad Perdida. Now of course we work to conserve the ancient rammed earth platforms and their stone surrounds, and the miles of stone staircases that connected the “cities” of the Tayrona.
CP 61 best

But we also build bridges and health centers and install efficient stoves and graywater treatment systems in the homestays, which seem to break the boundaries of what we consider heritage conservation.
Trail 29 bridge

Why not? The bridge was built after someone died during a flash flood. Ostensibly it is for the tourists, but it has become a vital resource for the local people as it facilitates transportation in the same way the original stone staircases did a thousand years ago. The health center will help if there is an emergency on the trail, but will of course primarily serve the indigenous Kogi people who live here, own and operate homestays, help ferry tourists up the trail, and are a primary target for community development.
Trail 40 indig

You see, community development is not defined as the equivalent of economic development, and neither is simply numeric. A bridge, a health center – these are infrastructural improvements that affect a whole VARIETY of metrics and improve local life and livelihoods. When you properly approach community development as an integrated piece of heritage conservation – as we do at Global Heritage Fund – you realize that your goals and targets are more than numbers.
CP lodge Romauldo SG

Community development is a process of improvement, and that improvement can mean more and better jobs, more income and other things that can be assigned numbers. But it also means more opportunities, more access, more infrastructure and more choices and options for the local population. Interestingly, it can also mean more natural area conservation like I mentioned above, because increasingly conservation organizations are moving away from the wilderness model and looking to indigenous managed – landscapes as a way to conserve the best of nature and culture in the MOST sustainable way.
Trail 12 peeps

Sustainability. Using resources in a way that allows the next generation to enjoy them as well. The cultural landscape – the world heritage site that contains monuments, relics and treasure from an ancient civilization WHILE still serving as the home and livelihood of an indigenous population – is the most sustainable solution for BOTH heritage and biodiversity.
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The How and Why of Preservation

November 11, 2014

This is the title of a presentation I did for the Office of Historic Preservation, Centro San Antonio and over a hundred luncheon attendees in San Antonio last week.  I went through four thematic reasons WHY we save things:  Identity – Community – Economy – Education. 

cathedral fntn bestS

San Antonio is a beautiful town

I then detailed the HOW, which includes National Register designation and local landmark status and so forth.  I focused on my mantra, which readers of this blog are familiar with:  Preservation Is Not A Set of Rules But A Process.

La Villita cafeS

The more I work internationally, the more this is true.  The Burra Charter is to me the Magna Carta of heritage conservation.  It outlines how to engage the local community and local culture into the PROCESS of IDENTIFYING what is significant in the past that the community wants to bring into the future; EVALUATING the nature, materiality and essence of that significance that needs to be preserved and/or transmitted; DESIGNATING it through a workable local mechanism; and TREATING the resources tangible and intangible in a way that conserves the significance.

La Villita clsS

Lotsa yellow stone reminds me of dolomite

There is great variety in the United States about how local historic preservation commissions and laws work – many places have only advisory and not binding review, but the legal force of the local ordinance never seems to affect the negative reactions one often gets to preservation.  Some of that is caused by preservationists who take an extreme position of wanting to put something into a time capsule, but mostly it is caused by a lack of understanding of HOW we review treatment of historic resources to insure they maintain their significance.

theatre facade14S
So, that is the facade and….?

So, WHY we preserve is actually a great focus, because it is something the planners and builders and businesspeople and politicians can understand.  The history of preservation in San Antonio actually points to this.  Back in 1921 there were killer floods in San Antonio which led to a proposal to bury the river and give the downtown a nice new regular grid that would be more welcoming to business and development. 

riverwalk mapS
Because business can only follow straight lines???

The San Antonio Conservation Society formed to oppose this and indeed by 1929 the town had not only preserved the squiggly river, irregular streets and other supposed job-killers, they had created what is now the heart and soul of San Antonio: The Riverwalk.

riverwalk14 bridgeS

Even those who were concerned about that crafty canard “too much preservation” could not imagine San Antonio without its Riverwalk.  Indeed, since I was last in the city four years ago, they have extended it several miles further.  You can now walk or boat or ride from the downtown to the redeveloped Pearl Brewery site, itself a model of the vitality of doing redevelopment based on historic buildings.

pweral hotel emma rvrwalk

Then in the 1930s the Conservation Society then turned its focus to the missions (five including the Alamo) that extend ten miles south of town and represent the earliest European settlement of the region. This sort of put them into familiar preservationist territory – saving monuments of founders and isolating landmarks from the economic everyday – but it is instructive that they began with a planning and revitalization effort, one that continues to this day.

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This building was undergoing restoration when I was here in 2010 – now it is done.

Someone – maybe it was my longtime friend and colleague Shanon Miller, who invited me to speak – asked an excellent rhetorical question: How many city centers do you know that were revitalized WITHOUT historic buildings? You know, those places where they managed to build enough six-story parking garages and convention centers that everyone came downtown again even though there were no old buildings?

parking lot24
That is so hip!

I was preceded in my lunch talk by Stephanie, Erik and Darby from Heavy Heavy, a local design firm that has created a campaign called “Keep San Antonio Real” and you should use the hashtag #keepsareal. I loved this because they were young and they were defining the authenticity they loved and wanted to keep in their community. Every generation needs to do this, as I explained in an important blog a few years back.

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Luminaria, San Antonio

It made my discussion of WHY we preserve easier, because here was the next generation collecting Instagrams about what people loved about their city and fighting to maintain that sense of community, belonging and rootedness that we call “authenticity.” I see it in buildings old and new, in streetscapes and colors of stone, in the trees that loomed over the riverwalk, and in the tiny two-door bungalows that could only exist in Texas.

vaca bunga 2doorS

The good people concerned with the business development of downtown San Antonio were very interested in what I had to say. I tend to be the guy that says preservation needs to pay for itself, which reassures businesspeople, but they need to understand that usually it can and does.

Fairmount
Sometimes you have to move it

The failure to preserve a building is rarely the failure of a law or a review. It is usually the failure of imagination on the part of a developer or city planner to figure out how to save what is significant and make it pay for itself.

fed courthous

Imagination is freed not by understanding the HOW of preservation in all of its technicality, no more than a real estate development succeeds by understanding the HOW of zoning in all of its technicality. It is the WHY that does it. Preservation is the form of economic development that reinforces local culture, sense of place, community identity, and the economic excitement of a rebirth nurtured in local soil with local roots and the tender care of a local community.

carve bus stopS

vaca stone schoolS

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A quarter century ago, driving my yellow Chevy in Humboldt Park, Chicago, I pulled over and wrote 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. We preserve landmarks
 because our history is part of us. Our historical built environment tells us
 where we came from and why we do what we do. When we lose landmarks, we lose a
 part of ourselves.”

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But like the Spanglish of the Riverwalk quote above, my focus today is less on the lost and more on the rebuilding, a rebuilding that is ever sustainable if it is done in the form, fabric and fullness of the local community and culture.

Why we preserve is much, much more important than how – if we focus on the why, we will find the imagination and creativity to create the how.