Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Main Street and Community Preservation

February 13, 2016

state st lkpt

This coming week I will be lecturing about Main Street, a National Trust for Historic Preservation initiative that began in the 1970s as a way to help preserve historic downtowns throughout America in communities of every size.  This was in the era when suburban shopping malls had become the centerpiece of American life, drawing attention and dollars away from the smaller shops and services of the old downtowns.

strip mall aerialSnot quite a 30,000 foot view but you get the idea

The invention of Main Street by my dear friend Mary Means marks for me a major shift in historic preservation, the shift toward a pragmatic approach to economics.  The first shift took place in the 1960s when a half-century of community efforts to save historic residential neighborhoods became a vital part not only of municipal preservation ordinances, notably  New York City in 1965, but also the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

georg twnhssGeorgetown, arguably the first historic district not designed for tourism

Historic districts have a history that goes back to the early 20th century, and the first to be legislated – Charleston and New Orleans – did it to help control a tourist economy that was threatening to kill the golden goose.  A wave of other historic districts followed in the 1940s and 1950s but it wasn’t until Georgetown in 1950 and Beacon Hill in 1955 that historic districts actually became community planning tools dealing not with tourism but the basic economics of residential neighborhoods.

Royal and Toulouse CornerNew Orleans

Now, the immediate impulses that led to historic districts were the massive government programs of urban renewal and highway construction that were decimating cities and towns, but these threats were only countered in communities that had already organized around their built environment.  For me it marks an important departure from the curatorial model that previously held sway.

wgv parkGreenwich Village.  A really long long story.

Main Street took an even more radical step by reducing the traditional preservationist focus on architectural design to a mere 25% of the program, focusing equally on Organization, Events, and Economic Restructuring. Not only that, but the design piece was even less curatorial because the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties had not yet been codified.  The goal was to save buildings but Mary and the others knew that would only happen if they made economic sense.IMG_7640and that was before sidewalk cafes, so you had to be creative

Also in the 1970s, the first historic preservation tax credits appeared, helping to address an imbalance (mostly in finance) between old and new buildings in terms of commercial real estate development.  This trend toward economic pragmatism and community organization took a further step in the 1980s as large government subsidies for real estate development became extinct.  The early 1980s were the era of the public-private partnership.

gaylord708sthis is where I enter the story – 25 years before this picture

I began my career 33 years ago Monday working on the very first heritage area in the United States.  Like Main Street, traditional historic preservation was only 25% of the goal, along with Natural Area Conservation, Recreation, and Economic Development.  Now historic preservation was taking on the massive de-industrialization affecting the economy.  It was the brainchild of my first boss, Jerry Adelmann and it was bold.  We held a conference in Joliet in 1984 when the city had 23% unemployment.  We saw the future – accurately as it turns out – and saw the value of our historic built environment to that future.

squander Vm quoteI’m so old I have literally been a museum piece – albeit one that “isn’t about museums”

The heritage area thing took off big time – there were over 40 across the country in 20 years time.  The public-private partnership aspect worked very well in an era of diminishing government resources and of course still does.  Like historic districts and Main Streets, it also prioritized the community’s role in self-organization for its own improvement, on its own terms.  Then my mentor, Jerry Adelmann, took his heritage area idea to China, and I followed.

Weishan north gate 2014this is the Weishan North Gate (1390) that burned a year ago.  It is now rebuilt.  Yunnan.

See, it turns out that the pragmatic approach to the development of our built environment developed by “historic preservationists” over a half century was eminently transferable .  Why?  Not complicated.  You identify the resources and assets of a place, determine how they function in an evolving economy, create vibrant sustainable models, and then scale them.  The last part is the hardest, but time has proven the sustainability of our model.

view fr twr along highwaySchoose your poison

I’m not saying that there aren’t big massive developments that ignore these principles.  They are everywhere.  They are generally less sustainable, but the real difference is community.  See all that stuff above about historic districts and Main Streets and heritage areas has a component of community control.  Even more importantly, heritage development insures that MORE MONEY stays in the local community.  It doesn’t go flying off to some faraway corporate HQ.

downtown NR distSmaybe you can ‘splain this to the MI and WI legislators who either A) don’t understand economics, or B) are being paid to send your money out of your local economy.

I’m very fortunate I was able to participate in, contribute to, and chronicle much of this fascinating half-century and I look forward to sharing it in Indiana next week!

 

 

 

 

Historic Districts, Economics and Misconceptions

January 30, 2016

One of the interesting facts about the heritage conservation field is that it does not track neatly with political persuasions.  My first day of work in 1983 saw the legislation creating the first national heritage area co-sponsored by every single member of the Illinois Congressional delegation, bar none.  Imagine.
lock 8 houseSeverybody loves them some locktender’s houses

So, I was a little confused that Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and Michigan were trying to get rid of historic districts in the name of “property rights.”  This is odd, because when I wrote my dissertation on historic districts, one of the reasons I looked at districts and not individual landmarks was that they tended to have broad political support because they treated everybody – or every property – the same.  A true libertarian can’t stand individual landmarks because they require an owner to save a property while letting all his neighbors do whatever they want.

cleve ot panOld Town, Chicago.  One of the case studies in my dissertation

Given the ideological fumbling of said state legislatures, we can write these actions off as the attempts of a political junior varsity to go after some low-hanging regulatory fruit.  Historic districts are government actions after all, right?

pv-water-bottle-storeSo is water, but that issue is a tad sensitive in Michigan right now, so best to look elsewhere…

The quotes are typical of our facts-be-damned era.  Feature this:

“How would you feel if you woke up one day and found your house subject to 40 pages of rules and regulations?” said Wisconsin Republican State Senator Frank Lasee in a statement. “Burdensome regulations that require you to get permission from a government committee to improve your house, get approval for paint color, or the style and brand of windows you buy.”

Senator you are KILLING it!  40 whole pages!  That’s like almost as big as a newspaper!  “A government committee” that it turns out is made up only of your neighbors?

Paint color regulation in Wisconsin????  Are you (something) kidding me??

main drag.jpgactual Wisconsin historic district.  Paint superfluous.

And windows….oh lord help me.  Dude, if you are replacing your windows, have at it, because you have already lost.

To even things out, one of the writers at Citylab – which is generally one of my favorite feeds – decided to attack districts from the other side of the aisle.  He said that historic districts prevent affordable housing by keeping values high and excluding people.  He said we should only designate individual public landmarks and then ranted about how Charleston (SC) is ruined now that its historic district is 85 years old.  See the article here.

100 wesley eastSmy historic district, protecting my property values.  we have awesome parties too.

How cool is this!  Historic districts are hurting people’s property rights!  Historic districts are raising values and thwarting affordable housing!  Historic districts are government overreach.  Historic districts are walls keeping out the poor!  (Got whiplash yet?)

carlos thropp torSexcept when they are community planning tools in underserved areas.  BURN!

No, historic districts do not restrict density (or use) and they do not prima facie restrict affordable housing, assuming there is local legislative requirement.  I live in a district full of houses that have been turned into 5-10 units without running afoul of the landmarks commission.

215 grov 406eS

Now, in fairness to the dude, this stuff is not known by most people.  So let’s break down the common misconceptions about historic districts, zoning, and real estate economics.

Real Estate Value

Real estate is the only asset whose value is entirely externalized.  This is obvious, but our nagging and inaccurate common sense always wants to pretend there is a zero-sum game out there.  But there isn’t.  A house can be gorgeous, important, even nicely fitted out, and if its neighborhood sucks mightily, it will have NO VALUE.  Ain’t nothing you can do to reclaim the value of that asset unless you fix the whole damn neighborhood.  Here’s proof:

waller 98 2844s

This is one of the Waller Apartments, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1894.  I bought this property 25 years ago for $1.  I paid $40,000 too much for it.  You got that, cowboy?  It had a NEGATIVE value because of its neighborhood, Frank Lloyd Wright be damned.

emeryville raised vicsEmeryville.  Too late, you missed it.

Yes, historic districts are like zoning, and yes, they preserve value.  People invest in their properties and want to preserve or enhance their investment.  That is why zoning was upheld by a really conservative Supreme Court in 1926.  Interestingly, because historic districts are more precise and individualized than zoning, they are a more useful tool for community activists.

Home economics

Here is the most economically illiterate sentence in the whole article:

“Houses, on the other hand, are often poor candidates for historic preservation.”

Whoa.  No.  Commercial and institutional properties are poor candidates for preservation because they have to make the rent.  They have to put a third down and convince a bank that they can offer a beige product that someone will buy NOW.

roper interior

People will spend money on their houses in a completely irrational manner because it’s their house.  There would be no pools, no doggie doors, no projection TVs, rec rooms, home theaters, basement bars or carpets if houses had to follow the same rational economic rules that other buildings do.

Urban Economics

The argument that both liberals and conservatives like to lob at historic districts is that they affect the real estate economics of the city.  This is what dude says about Charleston, which is apparently just ruined by entitled historic district owners and too expensive.

View east from KingEwww.

Ed Glaeser made the same argument about Manhattan, so it is good to see the liberals and conservatives united in opposition to preservation.  Except that this argument betrays a failure to understand economics at scale.

aeri ny8 v-z

Charleston and Manhattan are actually your best bets for making this argument, because if you take most cities and suburbs and look at all the properties and find out how much is encumbered by historic districts, you are lucky to hit 3% of the land.  You can hit maybe 15 or 20% if you look only at Manhattan or Charleston’s downtown peninsula, but once you include the rest of the city you are sitting back down in the single digits.

Which is why historic districts preserve value for the communities that seek them out (which is basically how it happens).  They are a technique to defend against larger, impersonal real estate issues rolling across the other 97% of the land.

curbcut class burlingSWhich means you can build loads and loads of these.  Blair Kamin calls them Curbcut Classicism.  I call them Lollapalazzos.

There are real estate forces at work that are much bigger and more powerful than historic preservation.  That is why all sorts of non-landmarked parts of Brooklyn have rocketed in value.  Indeed, in the late 1980s I saw Wicker Park in Chicago get landmarked and the adjacent non-landmarked neighborhood of Bucktown tripled in value in one year.  It took landmarked Wicker Park a decade to catch up.

bucktown newbersBucktown!

dodger hdonDemolished in Bucktown, 2006.

So how do you define success?  Low real estate values?   High real estate values?

This is one of those tricky issues – like gentrification – where you want to have a neat and clean reaction but you can’t.  Because it is messy.  I would like to have everyone who lives here stay here.  I would like to protect my property’s value.  I don’t want to be told what to do, but I REALLY want to tell my neighbor what to do.  Also, a pony would be nice.

sewickley hunt dogs2Sorry, we can’t afford a pony.

You want affordable housing?  Legislate it.  Here is some in Palo Alto, where the average house is about $2million.

801 alma PA w

The left and the right should both stop using historic districts as a whipping post.  These are tools that communities use to help determine their destiny in a more precise and individual way than is possible for most communities.  Also they save precious resources from filling landfills.  And grant a bit of beauty, grace and depth to our lives.

UPDATE: 24 Days later – Source of Michigan legislative illness revealed!

Turns out the Michigan law came about because the wealthy of East Grand Rapids defeated a local historic district last year and decided no one else should have one either!   Check out this article.

Sore losers I can understand.  But sore winners?  That’s just mean.

Maybe it’s just typical 1% thinking:  “Look Mom, I did something clever!  Now let’s scale!”

I saw the EXACT same thing happen in Winnetka, Illinois, 25 years ago.  Made a stink for awhile – even used the same analogies.  It died down as soon as the lobbying funding did.  Which is predictable because there are two truths this law fails to recognize:

  1. How real estate economics works (see above).
  2. How these districts got created in the first place, which was BY and FOR homeowners trying to protect their investment. That’s pretty much the ONLY WAY it happens.

Indeed, that is what happened in East Grand Rapids, except the community split over the idea of an historic district and kiboshed it.  So why would you spoil it for everyone else unless you were, say,  a developer who wanted to make your job easier.

Did I just answer my own question?

They also hired marketing gurus who came up with this whopper lie about how historic regulations work:

“Modern technology allows builders to make historic-looking home exterior parts out of aluminum or plastic, argues Afendoulis, but district commissions rarely, if ever, allow their use regardless of how closely they mimic wood.”

You know, if you are spending this much money you might do a little homework.

 

Chautauqua: Where America spoke

November 12, 2015

“I must protest against the dismemberment of Chautauqua.”

  • Letter to William Rainey Harper from John Heyl Vincent, 4 July 1899.

12244206_10206774174906372_134990375_n

I stumbled across this nugget while researching other matters regarding George Vincent and William Rainey Harper, the first President of the University of Chicago.  Vincent’s father John Heyl Vincent was a founder of Chautauqua, which as you may know, is a place in New York state that evolved from a Sunday School into a nationwide educational movement.

The Amphitheater, built in 1893, has echoed the voices of Americans ranging from Susan B. Anthony and William Jennings Bryan to Ella Fitzgerald, Amelia Earhart, Thurgood Marshall and Sandra Day O’Connor.  And William Rainey Harper to be sure.  It is central to the Chautauqua National Historic Landmark and one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Treasures.  The Trust also named ‘The Amp” one of the 11 Most Endangered Sites back in June.

unnamed

The “dismemberment” in the letters between Vincent and Harper referred not to the physical Amphitheater but the movement itself and the richness of the educational and cultural experiences it offered.  From upstate New York (and Ontario) the movement spread and created auditoria and ampitheaters from Florida to Colorado, many of which are now significant landmarks as well.

12226554_10206774152905822_838510651_n

Chautauqua was a way of bringing great minds, great music and culture to adult Americans everywhere the the nation.  President Theodore Roosevelt called it the most American thing in America.  The Amphitheater was of course the center of the Chautauqua experience and the edifice that edified, indeed.

13037318

The current leadership of the Chautauqua Institution is trying to demolish the Amphitheater and replace it with a new one.  They FINALLY admitted that after pretending they were going the rehab route.  Always good to determine your design approach AFTER you start the fundraising.16497_10207597564368082_3536951347649320528_n

I am back in Chicago and the whole project reeks of the small-mindedness of a Chicago political deal.  There are the usual complaints about sight lines and contemporary amenities, but the more that is revealed about the deal the more Chicago it gets.  The architect has never even done a building like this before but has built a house for one of the major donors.

12208023_10206774163786094_567008669_n

*Mic drop*  You sure there isn’t a Chicago alderman or Illinois governor involved?

12231231_10206774145785644_439736676_n

The latest is that the demolition bids are way higher than expected.  Well, gee whiz you hired an inexperienced architect – looks like your cost guy hasn’t played in the big leagues yet either.

Speaking of the big leagues, when a football or baseball team wants a new stadium it is all about the luxury boxes and seat licenses.  Which is to say it is financial.  So, what are the finances of demolition and reconstruction?  About $5-$15 million MORE than rehabilitation.

AR-306099756

You see, there are limited situations where rehabilitation does not work physically or financially.  1.  A grave disorder or limitation in the historic structure that cannot be solved.  Not the case here.  2.  A new need or use that cannot be accommodated.  Also not the case here.  3.  Financial burdens.  Also not the case – they are spending MORE.  They are basically replacing an old Ampitheater with a new one.

0dea5d_5e997c11f0524ef5bdf923625cd61735.jpg_srz_p_287_229_75_22_0.50_1.20_0

Because?  Newer is better?  That works when you are selling houses, because newer is better for all of five years, and most people flip after five years.  But an amphitheater where Marian Anderson sang and Booker T. Washington spoke?  Where Van Cliburn played?  This legacy deserves better than a strip mall mentality, an insider deal and an amateur approach.

12226496_10206774160546013_1307576383_n

Nothing historic to see here.  Move along.

UPDATE: More Hijinks!

Well, as is common in these cases, a few more fun, Chicagoesque details have come to light.  The first involves the shift from “Rehab” to “Demolition” and follows a very yellowed and very tattered playbook.  You know the one: raise a structural red herring.

So, you are coming to see this incredible historic place where half of the people in your American History textbook spoke.  You want to walk among the columns, touch the benches, gaze upon the stage.  But they make you sign a WAIVER not holding them responsible in case you suffered an injury in an unsafe Amp.  BRILLIANT!

So, they did a structural study, right?  Oh yeah, they did, RIGHT before they voted to demolish it in August.  Two weeks before, but MONTHS after they made people sign waivers based on…..wishful thinking?

This is a pattern.  They had another historic house on site that they promised to rehab, started raising money for rehab and — SWITCHEROO — decided to demolish it and call the new one the same thing.  Just like the Amp.  So this is how they operate:  Fake a rehab, draw in dollars, and then throw the bomb.

Second fun detail:  The state of the campus plan and the organization’s strategic plan.  Every self-respecting National Historic Landmark has a plan.  Not Chautauqua.  The National Park Service even offered to help.  But as far as I can discover, there is no campus plan, nor a current strategic plan to guide decision-making, even if it is done in the dark.

That’s just bad policy.  Sure, it happens all the time, but rarely with an organization and a PLACE of this import, scale, and budget.

Except Chicago.

Images courtesy Committee to Save The Historic Chautauqua Amphitheatre

Post script – check out the comment below!  Full on ad hominem!

Visit Save The Amp! to find out more!

CHQAmp_4a03988u_c1899_LOC_mr2016 UPDATE:  The board of the Chautauqua voted – as expected, opaquely – to trash the Amp and spend $41 million demolishing and replacing it.  Power corrupts.

HOT OFF THE PRESSES!  A lawsuit has been filed by those who want to preserve the building, charging that the process had circumvented local and state laws requiring architectural and environmental review.  Given what is chronicled above and the Institution’s proclivity for process-avoidance, it could be true, and the Supreme Court has issued a stay on the demolition – Stay Tuned!

12 FEBRUARY 2016 UPDATE:

Well, the stay is lifted so they can begin demolition.  I am very sad about this loss, not least because as the National Trust, we do not lose that many of our 11 Most Endangered Sites.

The next step after the loss of the Amp should be the delisting of Chautauqua as a National Historic Landmark – that is what happened to Soldier Field after a spaceship landed in it a decade ago.  That wasn’t even a full demolition like this one, and to their credit, the Soldier Field folks were transparent and straightforward about what they were doing.

 

Strategic Thinking and the Heritage of Every Single Day.

September 9, 2015

One of the many benefits of my three years in Silicon Valley, buttressed by 30 years of serving on non-profit Boards of Directors  (I whittled it down to four recently.  Well, five.)  is that I have been steeped in strategic thinking and strategic planning.  While this may seem like a normal exercise to the MBA crowd, it is something that tends to be lacking in the historic preservation/heritage conservation field.

hutong demo8

Aaugh HELP they are tearing it down!!!  NOW!!

I have to give credit to my sister Clare Bergquist for this insight, because my tendency was to look at my recent work and think it was just more of the same.  The stuff I always did.  I was always the pragmatic, economically sensible preservationist in the room.  Clare noted, correctly, that my approach is actually strategic, a quality in short supply in our field.

smashing_ancient_artifacts_in_mosul_museum_library

For good reason ofttimes.

We tend to think of preservationists (I use the U.S. term grudgingly) as: advocates focused on the short term goal of saving something; bureaucrats focused on current policies for saving something; artists and architects focused on the significance of beauty; historians and community activists focused on the beauty of significance; or wonks focused on balancing the old and and new for economic reasons, which are notoriously short-term.  None of these are positions of strategic thinking.

oak hill porches

1000 square feet, $4650 a month.  Built 1908 as a hunting lodge.  Great location, for now.

So I think about the business mentality of Silicon Valley, the business sense of my sister Clare and the economic pragmatism I have brought to the heritage conservation field since I first waded in over 32 years ago.   I remember that blog I wrote four years ago about being in the middle of a strategic planning process on the Board of Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation at the same time.  Did it again at Global Heritage Fund, and I have been especially doing it the last few years as I try to outline a future for our field that includes all peoples.

DD abv w wom

The luxury of perspective

I have been writing recently about the need to improve our heritage tools in the United States in order to reflect the diversity of American history and the diversity of the American people, and it came to some extent out of my international work, where we have the advantage of needing to connect with very diverse cultures and geographies.

biertan vw to church

Siebenburgen, oder?

How do we connect?  The answer is in a culturally specific way in every single case and place.  It is the opposite of the lawyerly idea of precedent.   I have said for many years there is a PROCESS (see the Burra Charter) that works anywhere because it engages community and culture.  It isn’t about museums or monuments because the only thing that can save a resource or tradition is a group of people who need or desire to use that resource or tradition EVERY SINGLE DAY.

div1

We will have a Learning Lab on this at the National Preservation Conference in DC in November.

I was explaining this to someone at the California College of the Arts last week and they said simply “I have never heard anyone talk about historic preservation that way.”  I realized that my sister was right and I have had the great fortune to explore this field for so long from so many perspectives and so many geographies.  I took a great risk leaving a tenured endowed Chair at a major university to move to California and run an international conservancy.  What is the payoff?

“I have never heard anyone talk about historic preservation that way.”

z4

Also I got to go to Libya.  After Benghazi, so there is that…

No headway can be made in any field without taking risks.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take some risks and view this field from a whole variety of angles, and I am now convinced more than ever what we need to do.  I am very grateful I have had this summer to view my field and my experience from the distance required to think strategically.

CP 61 best

And the specific steps we need to take

The latest revelation came in my last blog, when I reflected on the huge opportunity I had to present my ideas to the National Tribal Preservation Conference.  Indian country reminded me that yes, heritage is about culture, and yes, it is about community, but it is also about continuity.  The greatest mischief of our High Modernist 1960s historic preservation was not even its surrender to the methods and objectives of architecture, but its assumption that the past lay at a distance, across a gulf that could not be bridged.

roman bridge

The Romans built the bridge.  The Allies bombed it.  But there it is.

Heritage conservation is first and foremost about community, aiding them in identifying what elements of their past they want, need and can use in the future.  Helping them evaluate the significance of their cultural inheritance and determine what the appropriate treatments are for each specific context.  There are no precedents, although there are analogues, and there are experts, but they are nothing without community support.  The heritage must be made part of the economic everyday.  It must be resources and artifacts and traditions and rituals and languages and landscapes that are used EVERY SINGLE DAY.

vince louvre82

Even when no one is watching….

Community.  Culture.  Continuity.  This is how I continue to talk about heritage and I am so very pleased at the many opportunities unfolding that allow me to continue this important work.

Transforming Heritage Philanthropy

May 13, 2015

Last week in this blog I presented some concepts on how we can create a more democratic, diverse and inclusive heritage conservation in the United States, largely by applying the lessons of international heritage conservation over the last twenty years, notably the Burra Charter.  Preservation is a process, not a set of rules.

lincolns cottage best2

President Lincoln’s Cottage, Washington DC

The second challenge we face in bringing our field into the 21st century is organizational and financial.  When preservation was about monuments and house museums, it looked to the traditional 19th and 20th century model of the non-profit institution for its organizational and financial logic.  This was how Ann Pamela Cunningham formed the Mount Vernon Ladies Association; how William Sumner Appleton founded the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, and indeed this was the idea that Congress had in 1949 when it chartered the National Trust for Historic Preservation to take care of great house museums.

woodlawn bestS

Woodlawn plantation, where it all began…

As I have pointed out many times before over the last decade, this model had financial problems, mostly due to the eternal misconception that ticket sales to tour a house museum could provide the revenue needed to operate same.  In fact, ticket revenues top out at about 20-25% of annual operating costs, and this was as true in William Sumner Appleton’s day as it is in our own.

Lyndhurst E besterS

Sorry, I don’t do windows..

Organizationally it is challenging as well because non-profits, especially historical societies and other groups who undertook heritage projects, tend to the orchidaceous, working to maintain not only artifacts large and small, but narratives.  This can lead to the classic problem:  you visit a site once in fourth grade and never need to return, because it is still the same.

dining room2

I swear someone moved that fork….

I covered all of this in my previous blogs about house museums here and here.  To me the value of conserving ANYTHING from history is that is can be re-examined and re-interpreted as new data come to light.  This is the opposite of many olden-days preservation efforts, which saw a singular story in their artifact(s).

office PAS

If you ask three inhabitants, you get three different stories..

It is also useful to look beyond the interpretive issues and focus on the organization.  Non-profits can be dynamic, evolutionary and creative, but those with a heritage bent will tend not to be disruptive, like every startup right outside that window here in Silicon Valley.  They also have historically tended to be reactive, arising in response to crisis.  This too, puts preservation into the legislative/regulatory world (you get a stop sign only after someone gets run over) but in a greater sense, we need to apply the lessons of the Burra Charter to how we organize and fund preservation/conservation.

money or culture

If only it were that simple…

What do you mean, Vince?  I mean you engage the community from the beginning not only in identifying heritage and how to save it in a culturally appropriate way, but you engage the community in the financial and organizational structure as well.  Crowdfund – which as everyone in Silicon Valley knows, is not a way to raise money for a project (you still think that?  where you been?) but a way to raise constituency and customer base in order to attract serious investors.

Porter House Los AltosS

In the olden days – and still today – preservationists wanted to find an “angel” with carloads of money to come save their rare treasure.  And indeed, when you are looking at buildings that were built for absurdly wealthy people, it makes sense that you would need one to keep it going.  But this model runs counter to the Burra Charter – if the community is not INVESTED in the project, they won’t give a damn about it and eventually that angel will go join the other angels and then where will you be?

HDL 38 best

Well, if you are here, it is a nice place to see…

This is to me another illustration of the Burra Charter’s utility – it works as well in suburban Chicago as it does in darkest Peru.  This doesn’t mean you don’t have major donors, and even principal donors, but you need to spread it out because to be sustainable you have to last GENERATIONS so you need to generate enthusiasm from the local community.  This is of course why people often turn to governmental institutions, since they represent the community and presumably have the resources over time.

c-m overhang

Except when they don’t…

Except when they don’t, which is why Congress created the National Trust in 1949, remember?  My entire career has taken place in the wake of the Reagan Revolution and the dawn of the public-private partnership, when every weight must be carried on several sets of shoulders.

msi karyatids

or heads…

35 years of whining about regulations means that conserving historic buildings, neighborhoods and structures today is a market-driven, project-based public-private partnership that takes advantage of the economic and community vitality that preserving things provides.  And it provides it at a better price point and lasts a hell of a lot longer than shoddy new stuff.  Historic Preservation tends to be for real capitalists, not the whiners.

high stair vic

There are too many steps!  I don’t wanna!  Waah!

Philanthropy has changed in the last 35 years as well.  Now, donors are impact investors who want to see results, not simply attendees at black-tie galas or members of exclusive clubs.  People want metrics, and while we may be MORE that way out here in Silicon Valley, it is a nationwide, and indeed a worldwide phenomenon.  We have seen the rise of social entrepreneurship.  We have seen the distinction between profit and non-profit blur (you don’t need to make a profit in Silicon Valley to be one of the world’s biggest companies after all) and we have seen the slow decline of old-line membership organizations.  We need the Uber-app for heritage conservation, the one that let’s you donate with a click and get a pic of the difference you made NOW.

jaquard loom

And of course follow the thread if you wish

Our brave new world of apps and sharing and creative destruction needs to be embraced by the heritage field, but we do have a deep-rooted bias against it.  Ann Pamela Cunningham wasn’t just trying to save Mount Vernon, she was trying to save the Union, and in a very real sense, an already obsolete agrarian aristocracy.  What did she say in 1874?  Oh yeah, this:

Ladies, the home of Washington is in your charge…Let no irreverent hand change it, let no vandal hands desecrate it with the fingers of progress…Let one spot in this grand country of ours be saved from change.[i]  

old loco

Aaaugh!! Progress!!!!

She was particularly cheesed off by the “manufactories” that could be seen from Mount Vernon.  Not only was preservation anti-economic and anti-Progress, it was anti-Industrial Revolution, which actually has echoes in the contemporary philosophy of William Morris.  But setting yourself up outside of the economic logic of your world cannot work over generations.  Which is why we, in the heritage field, will continue to embrace and engage our current social economy so we can succeed in twenty years.

old techno

And we do need to get rid of some overhead…..

There are lots of ways to do this.  Successful house museums are the ones with diverse programming, extensive community engagement, and leveraged gift/book shops with vigorous online presence.  Successful preservation organizations are the ones who are able to kickstart enough people to convince the donor/investors to participate and ramp them up to the next level.  Yes, we need members and galas, but at the end of the day the dynamic organization is going to get the honey.

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can’t rest on your laurels, much less your Turrell

The opportunities for social entrepreneurship are massive – heck they are doing it in Barcelona with Gaudi already and the Wall Street Journal is reporting it.  The biggest opportunity out there, and the biggest lesson of the valley is that you want to be a desired brand that people will pay for.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation was created so that Congress didn’t have to try to save these old houses.  Tomorrow it can be the brand every historic building owner wants.  There is an obvious analogy:

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LEED.  LEED certified.  Architects have it on their business cards after their name.  LEED is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council but you have to PAY FOR IT.  They used to do it just by design – you designed something and checked off their boxes for nice things like graywater treatment and bike racks and you got a LEED plaque even if the building required 20,000 truckloads of garbage to build.  They got smarter, noticed that half of their certified buildings weren’t performing to standard, and started to get the kind of metrics modern investor/donors need.  They are a must-have success story and someone in the heritage field will figure out soon how to brand themselves that way.  I blogged about this 3 years ago here.

ballaghmore castle sng

Do you get points for insulating walls that are 3 feet thick?

So how does heritage conservation become socially entrepreneurial?  By building on community engagement.  By insuring that heritage is at the center of neighborhood planning.  My reminding everyone that their favorite neighborhoods and commercial districts are historic and by trading on and trading for that superior value-add.

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But is there parking?

But What About International Heritage?

Internationally, the case is simultaneously simpler and more complex.  Most countries do not have tax incentives for historic preservation – I remember presenting to a group in Ahmedabad, India in 2008 and the Ahmedabad Times only covered one element of my speech – tax incentives for preservation.  Now, seven years later, India actually has them, but in general the philanthropic model of the Anglo-American NGO is foreign in most places.

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Balkrishna Doshi and I, Ahmedabad, 2008

Nonprofits in the U.S. live and die on the tax deductibility of contributions – there is far less of this culture in other places, which suggests one thing:  If and when they adopt a philanthropic culture, it will be an entirely new model.  Data mining, place-sharing, community-leveraging, economic modality-defying and disruptive for sure.

PearlLamAPt furnitur

This is not your mother’s china…

China and India will fill up with social corporations faster than we can perceive, and we may be learning from them how to pay for – and organize – the basic human concept of determining what elements of the past we need to have in the future to sustain ourselves.

[i]Quoted in Sherr, Lynn, and Kazickas, Jurate, Susan B. Anthony Slept Here: A guide to American Women’s Landmarks., New York and Toronto,Times Books, Random House, 1976 and 1994, p. 464.

The new urban commandments

January 4, 2015

Prince Charles of England, who famously got involved in the world of architecture and urbanism nearly 30 years ago with a notorious speech to architects deriding modernism, has released last month in Architectural Review a list of ten principles for urban planning and design.  Those of us in the heritage preservation world have generally been fond of Albion’s heir and his advocacy of the virtues of tradition in architecture, although most of us become uncomfortable pitting tradition against modernism, fearing both the superficiality of style and a reduction of our cause into a formalist debate.

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Amherst

In contrast to the 1985 speech, architects have received HRH’s 10 principles positively.  Leaving aside the virtues of the modernist design that characterized most of the 20th century, let’s take a look at the 10 points.

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Filoli

“Developments must respect the land. They should not be intrusive; they should be designed to fit within the landscape they occupy.”

This is indeed a good principle and one hardly limited to traditional design – having grown up on Frank Lloyd Wright, it is arguably at the center of each of his schemes.  I also wonder how it fits into the classical landscape architecture we find in sites like the one pictured above, which I guess would please most traditionalists.

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Taliesin West

“2: Architecture is a language. We have to abide by the grammatical ground rules, otherwise dissonance and confusion abound. This is why a building code can be so valuable.”

Architecture absolutely is a language, and like English it is a language enriched by evolution and adaptation, not a language that tries to erect barriers around its purity like French.  Like Picasso, a good modernist should first master the traditional rules.  The last sentence is odd:  In the States building codes are largely a public safety phenomenon, having evolved from fire codes, so there influence on the formal design is minimal.

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British Museum

“3: Scale is also key. Not only should buildings relate to human proportions, they should correspond to the scale of the other buildings and elements around them. Too many of our towns have been spoiled by casually placed, oversized buildings of little distinction that carry no civic meaning.”

Barring the rhetorical oddity of the first sentence, this is one of the best principles.  There are certain examples of modernism that destroy human scale as well as their surroundings and these are usually disasters.  Again, the principle works beyond style:  Speer’s totalitarian Classicism also destroyed human and contextual scale.  I would also argue that scale is the connecting link between individual works of architecture and their context.  Note the “civic meaning” exception that allows for focus buildings, which for many urbanists of the 19th and 20th century, were supposed to be public buildings, not physical advertisements for their rent.

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Chicago

“4: Harmony − the playing together of all parts. The look of each building should be in tune with its neighbours, which does not mean creating uniformity. Richness comes from diversity, as Nature demonstrates, but there must be coherence, which is often achieved by attention to details like the style of door cases, balconies, cornices and railings.”

Again, I totally agree with this, a basic principle of all design.  Harmony by definition is the integration of diverse notes to create a whole richer than the sum of the parts.  I would argue rhythm, scale, materials and massing are much more important than architectural details.  But details are important – I tend to rank the ultrahigh buildings of East Asia by their ability to hold detail at close range and not only from the distance of the skyline view.

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New Orleans

“5: The creation of well-designed enclosures. Rather than clusters of separate houses set at jagged angles, spaces that are bounded and enclosed by buildings are not only more visually satisfying, they encourage walking and feel safer.”

This is again quite true.  A sense of enclosure is a brilliant planning device that speaks to basic human connections.  Not sure about jarring angles – I think good architects can employ a variety of geometries to achieve pedestrian-friendly satisfaction.

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Lathrop Homes, Chicago (1937)

“6: Materials also matter. In the UK, as elsewhere, we have become dependent upon bland, standardized building materials. There is much too much concrete, plastic cladding, aluminium, glass and steel employed, which lends a place no distinctive character. For buildings to look as if they belong, we need to draw on local building materials and regional traditional styles.”

This is interesting.  Using local materials is of course much more sustainable, and we have plenty of egregious counterexamples, like the Chicago skyscraper clad with Carrerra marble that failed or even our dear Getty, its stone shipped halfway across the world.  Having said that, concrete, glass and steel can indeed be local materials and I have seen them done humanely and done awfully.  My friend who restored the River Forest Women’s Club, a 1912 Prairie design by William Drummond, noted that the brilliance of the design was that very simple materials were used in a luxurious way – again a central tenet of Frank Lloyd Wright, who raised the level of several generations of “standardized” materials through design.

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Quarter-sawn oak.  Standard 1893.

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Humanized concrete, 1920s.

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Pyrex glass tubes, standard 1938.

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Standard glass, local limestone and wood, 1947.

“7: Signs, lights and utilities. They can be easily overused. We should also bury as many wires as possible and limit signage. A lesson learned from Poundbury is that it is possible to rid the street of nearly all road signs by using ‘events’ like a bend, square or tree every 60-80 metres, which cause drivers to slow down naturally.”

This is sound urban design, and I have witnessed it as far away as Weishan, Yunnan, China, where they buried the utilities over a dozen years ago in the historic Southern Silk Road city.  We are also reminded here that HRH has put his money where his mouth is and built a model suburb according to his principles.  Historically, of course, our cities here in the States were overrun by wires and signs from the earliest times.  Their absence is solely a 21st century phenomenon.

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Sadly, the landmark North Gate from 1390 just burned

“8: The pedestrian must be at the centre of the design process. Streets must be reclaimed from the car.”

Points for brevity and clarity here.  Car landscapes do not encourage commerce.  This has been a key to urban design for the last generation.

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You do a nice enough pedestrian space, they will move a major museum from the Upper East Side.

“9: Density. Space is at a premium, but we do not have to resort to high-rise tower blocks which alienate and isolate. I believe there are far more communal benefits from terraces and the mansion block. You only have to consider the charm and beauty of a place like Kensington and Chelsea in London to see what I mean. It is often forgotten that this borough is the most densely populated one in London.”

Density is another challenge – you CAN have great density without great height, although the two neighborhoods described derive their density from value, and the density of the wealthy may not be a prescription for the average urban place.  I personally like a nice tower here and there to set things off, foster diversity, create focus and reference points, and, of course, to encourage a pedestrian environment around transportation nodes.

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Another model town, nearing its 60th birthday.

“10: Flexibility. Rigid, conventional planning and rules of road engineering render all the above instantly null and void, but I have found it is possible to build flexibility into schemes and I am pleased to say that many of the innovations we have tried out in the past 20 years are now reflected in national engineering guidance, such as The Manual For Streets.”

This is also good sense and reminds me of the old preservation joke from about 15 years ago:

“What’s the difference between a highway engineer and a terrorist?”

“You can negotiate with a terrorist.”

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I don’t think that is true anymore, and what Prince Charles has enunciated here is not a defense of traditionalist style as much as some good advice for ways to look beyond style to the principles that make urban spaces human spaces, which is to say they accommodate people, their economies and societies, their cultures and their activities.  They are principles that emphasize diversity and flexibility.  The movement to preserve historic places created some of the first places where these principles could be negotiated and fulfilled by existing buildings – whatever their style.

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

shop row facing alamoS

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.

Planning for the Future; not Scrambling for the Past

September 21, 2014

I was re-reading one of my blogs from nine years ago (430 posts now – I guess I am about consistency and endurance whether I like it or not) and was struck (again) by my (consistent) non-ideological approach to heritage conservation. That blog “Heresy and Apostasy” basically took to task the concept that preservation had some kind of ideological purity and that those who didn’t try to save absolutely everything all the time were not “true” preservationists.

just say NO!3s

I recalled my youth in the field, when I did come close to that position, but it was never one I was completely comfortable with. First, ideologies sit outside of history and thus fail all tests of time. Second and more to the point, I began my career working on a heritage area – the first in the U.S. – and the goals there were historic preservation, natural area preservation, recreation, and economic development. Preservation was part of planning for the future. Preservation was a wise economic decision, especially in a post-industrial economy.

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Lockport, Illinois

When I worked at Landmarks Illinois, we always tried to save important buildings, sites and structures, and sometimes we couldn’t. It seemed we were always reacting, trying to put out brush fires. It is a hard life being an advocate, because you care passionately and you will suffer many losses.

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And Mullets. And Inspector Gadget trench coats

We tried to plan. We did a lot of work on historic churches in Chicago, on historic boulevards, and other efforts that were pro-active, planning for the future rather than scrambling for the past. These efforts are intrinsically more satisfying, because rather than simply understanding a building, site or structure’s significance, you also understand its condition, context, and possibilities. But we spent a lot of time putting out the brush fires, or trying to.

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Despite the mullet, we did save the building

This is why I am honored to be leading Global Heritage Fund, an organization that focuses its efforts on Planning, Conservation, Partnerships and Community Development. Notice how similar that is to the description of heritage areas? We undertake projects only after a thoughtful review of how we can help a community not simply save a resource, but activate it economically for the future of that community.

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GHF project at Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

Don’t get me wrong – we deal with threatened heritage. The problem is there is TONS of threatened heritage around the world – no one can save it all. But if you are going to try, you should approach the problem as one that needs to be solved for the future. GHF puts together not simply a plan to say NO to loss, but a plan to say HELLO to the future. How can a site survive not just the threat of destruction or deterioration but become a cherished and useful part of the community for the next generation?

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GHF project at Ciudad Perdida, Colombia

We have learned a lot recently about the importance of making sure the local community is part of the design and implementation of a project. This is a tenet of preservation planning since the Burra Charter amendments of 1999, but it is not always practiced. There are preservation/conservation traditionalists – the puritanical monks (a delightfully mixed metaphor) I referred to in my 2005 blog who actually abjure such practicality. For them, the test is the dedication to the cause, not the success of actually saving something.

heshui geese 3 copy

When I was young and impatient, I resisted the impulse to plan. The building had to be saved and we should try everything in our power to do it! No matter what! But that can lead to non-sustainable preservation. There are some buildings I labored to save SEVERAL times before someone came up with a PLAN to really conserve them for the next generation.

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Saved four times in ten years. I kid you not.

I just wrote an article referencing the first house saved in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1922. And again in 1924. And again in 1932. That is not unusual, that is what happens without a plan.

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I guess third time is the charm

The second reason planning is so important is community. The people who live around a world heritage site are its stewards, and if they don’t feel ownership of the project from the initial planning stages, all of your money is wasted. This is our biggest logistical challenge at Global Heritage Fund, but when I see it happen, it is the most rewarding because it means every nickel is being well spent.

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tea and oranges all the way from China

This is not enough for either the puritans or the romantics, who suffer from nostalgia, that 17th century disease that was “dangerous but not always fatal. Leeches, warm hypnotic emulsions, opium and a return to the Alps usually soothed the symptoms.” When I was a twenty-something advocate, I was once accused of nostaglia and I bristled visibly. I don’t save things because I have a disease of the past. I save them because they make the future better.

When you lose world heritage

Better is not just a pure economic term. Wealth alone is meaningless without culture, and heritage sites are repositories of culture, which is what differentiates humans from animals. They are records of culture and roots of new culture, and their value lies not in the permanence of their meaning but in their physical permanence. This is what allows them to keep granting meaning to our communities.

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Weishan, Yunnan

The economic argument is essential because it dictates survival – then once you have a threshold of survival, you can worry about research and interpretation and reinterpretation. And at Global Heritage Fund (join here!) we pride ourselves on bringing the latest scientific conservation techniques and practices to every site. That is the Conservation piece. Then we have the Planning piece, which leads directly into the Community Development piece. Partnerships is the fourth piece of our special GHF puzzle. We collaborate with partners, because we will only be there a few years but someone has to watch over these sites over generations.

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BC bas ChamsS

Please join and support Global Heritage Fund. We can’t do it without you!

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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.

Stepping Into World Heritage and Why

June 30, 2014

It has been six years since I wrote about stepwells, those amazing structures found throughout the Indian subcontinent. Communal water sources, stepwells range from simple community structures to elaborate complexes replete with stunning architectural detail. When I wrote six years ago I described the Adalaj stepwell in Ahmedabad, but I only included a single image, so I am remedying that here.
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adalaj stp1s

adalaj upS

adalaj shrinewS

I was thinking about stepwells last week because here at Global Heritage Fund (join us here!) we began our joint investigation of stepwell conservation last week when Ahmedabad architect Yatin Pandya journeyed to see the initial stepwell restoration projects in Rajastan led by Gram Bharati Samiti and make recommendations for the next step.

I was also thinking about stepwells because I spoke to a Chicago friend who has been documenting hundreds of them throughout India over recent years. They are fascinating structures, essentially underground, but often decorated with elaborate architectural trabeations and sculptural groups, as you can see at the most famous one, Rani Ke Vav in Gujarat, which was inscribed as a World Heritage Site last week by UNESCO.
Rani_ki_vav_second_tier

Rani_ki_Vav_sculptures

Stepwells encapsulate the mission of Global Heritage Fund: they are heritage sites that were – and often can remain – the centerpiece of a community, a source for water, yes, but also a source of communal pride. Especially when they have been recognized by UNESCO for their “outstanding universal value.”

Why should we care about history? I have spent my life answering that question and I recognize that most people are focused on the present.

When we say “HERITAGE” we are in fact talking about the present – and the future.

Why is World Heritage important? Because of a problem in the PRESENT that threatens the FUTURE. We recognize sites of “outstanding universal value” because we are concerned that they may not make it into the future. These listings are a call to action.

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Tomioka silk mill warehouse, Japan, one of several industrial sericulture sites inscribed

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Van Nelle tobacco factory, Rotterdam. This one is found on the cover of books of modern architecture

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Qenko near Cusco, a major stop on the Qhapaq Nan

The Qhapaq Nan, or Inca Road, was one of the more exciting inscriptions this year, because it is all about context. The road runs through six countries, roughly from Quito, Ecuador to Santiago, Chile, including Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Argentina. 273 sites over 6000 kilometers. Talk about your cultural landscape! At Global Heritage Fund, we investigated several sites along the road as potential investigations, including the site of Pachacamac, one of the ancillary Qhapaq Nan routes and the most important coastal arhcaeological site in South America.
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Near Templo del So, Pachacamac, 2012

As the World Heritage meeting was taking place, I was standing on Donkey Hill in Los Gatos, looking out over San Jose and all the way up to Moffett Field when my phone rang (Thanks, Modern World!) and it was Al-Jazeera wanting to interview me about the new World Heritage listings.

Their piece that evening focused on the Pyu Kingdom sites in Myanmar, which was great, because Global Heritage Fund got involved last year with Sri Ksetra, the most notable of these sites, through the work of our Founder, Jeff Morgan. I was amazed that the stupendous stupa-laden site of Pagan (or Bagan) was not listed, since that was one of the most impressive sites I visited during my first Asian sojourn in 1986.
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Stupa-fying

But the interview inevitably turned to the same topic my previous two interviews with them focused on: what do you do about sites that are in conflict zones? Earlier this year UNESCO put on the THREATENED list all six sites in Syria, which I was interviewed about in March. What do you do?
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The question begs for an answer that somehow you can intervene, but of course neither UNESCO nor organizations like Global Heritage Fund have the ability to intervene in a war. Moreover, throughout history, heritage sites have not only suffered from wars, but they are often TARGETED because they have great spiritual value to local populations. Destroying them is a way of terrorizing those populations, or in the case of the 1990s Mostar bridge, splitting the populations along sectarian lines.
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and its later restoration was a step to mending those divisions

The Bamiyan Buddhas were targeted by the Taliban and the jihadists in Iraq are currently threatening a range of heritage sites there, nihilism in the guise of religion. What can you do about these threats? I told the interviewer that UNESCO has very limited resources – they have now inscribed over 1000 sites in the last 42 years. This designation does not bring much money – “that is why organizations like Global Heritage Fund exist” I told them. We need to raise the money and identify national partners to save or restore sites like these – UNESCO can offer technical support but not so much money.

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World Heritage status is like National Historic Landmark status or local landmark status. It is the recognition of outstanding value for massive resources (think 273 sites over 6000 km) and it brings them to the attention of both the professional heritage community and the general public. It is that RECOGNITION that local and national governments, and private philanthropies like GHF – use to leverage the funds needed to save these vital places. The status means you can lobby governments to spend more on these sites because they are more important. It means you can try to generate philanthropy based on the same concept – here is where you can MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

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Talk about a money pit – one of my all-time favorite World Heritage Sites – the Falun mine, in Sweden. Photo by author, 2007.

Indeed, World Heritage status, like landmark status, is often TARGETED to help save threatened sites. UNESCO named several such as new inscriptions (listings) last week, including South Jerusalem, Erbil Citadel in Iraq, Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, and the City of Potosi, Bolivia. Threats are of course not only conflict but also poaching, looting, uncontrolled development and climate change. GHF documented these threats to our global heritage several years ago in print, and we are still fighting, although we are fighting to SAVE while others are fighting to DESTROY.

When you lose world heritage

To truly save a site, it must benefit the local community that lives there, which is the GHF model. Because heritage is ALWAYS about the future.