Posts Tagged ‘Heritage areas’

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!

 

 

 

 

Cultural Landscapes: The Confluence of Conservations

October 6, 2013

I have blogged previously about the differences between natural area conservation and heritage conservation, especially in terms of use-value, as I wrote about last year in this blog. The basic point was that natural area conservation is largely about preserving non-use value – a liability (or at least an externality), while heritage conservation is about preserving use-value – an asset.
Big Sur 97bS
we could all use some of this

That blog also delved into the 41-year history of World Heritage, which includes both cultural, natural and “mixed” sites. I detailed how we had shifted in heritage conservation from iconic and monumental singular sites to broader cultural landscapes. In recent discussions with conservation foundations, I am sensing a new confluence of heritage conservation and natural conservation as both approaches are moving into the arena of cultural landscapes.
heshuie fields4
Guizhou, China

More than one foundation that sees the conservation of natural areas as its mission has moved into funding efforts to protect indigenous peoples and landscapes: cultural landscapes that are NOT “wilderness” in any traditional sense, but whose balance of humans and nature seems to be in a sort of equilibrium we would not claim for our American cities and suburbs. At least two foundations I recently met with are looking at specific regions where indigeous people occupy – and farm or shepherd – a landscape in a way that may preserve the natural environment in an overall sense despite the “taint” of human occupation. Instead of merely keeping people out of these areas, the goal is to allow traditional indigenous economies to manage those landscapes in a sustainable way with traditional agriculturalist and pastoralist practices.
Trail 20 huts
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

The evolution of natural area conservation from wilderness to occupied landscapes has occurred over a long period, and arguably efforts to preserve Andean watersheds or Central Asian steppes without regard to political boundaries has its roots in the earliest national parks. My own experience in heritage conservation began with an organization that is still not 50 years old that undertook a comprehensive look at the landscapes near Chicago and identified pristine nature amidst industrial and agricultural development and devised a scheme to preserve BOTH.
canal view to indS
Illinois & Michigan Canal near Channahon.

Arguably, it is the historic preservation people who got to the party late, focusing on iconic architectural landmarks to the exclusion of layered landscapes where history might best be captured in ordinary structures. In my dissertation research, I identified a gap between the traditional architectural preservationists who sought to save individual landmarks and those community activists who identified potential historic districts almost a century ago. Those groups slowly came together in the 1960s and 1970s, just as the environmental movement achieved an apex of influence on public policy.
gv face reflex
Greenwich Village, Manhattan
El Capitan strea Alex5
Yosemite

It has been argued that both environmentalism and historic preservation are reactions against industrialization and its effects on the landscape; that both are somewhat nostalgic oppositions to economic growth. This argument fails to account for the entirety of my 30 years in the heritage development field but it does reveal an interesting bias that accounts for the current trends in regard to occupied landscapes.
mt vernon
Here is Mount Vernon, famously saved in the mid-19th century from the depredations of development, especially “manufactories.” There is of course its iconic association with George Washington, but if you go there today you realize that it is a plantation, which is to say, a settled agricultural landscape. Ann Pamela Cunningham and her friends saw BOTH the house and the landscape as worthy of preservation. The first preservation group in the US was the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. The motives were nostalgic and anti-progress, but their goals were both historic and environmental.

princeton btlfd
Princeton Battlefield

So perhaps it is not unusual that these two movements are coalescing AGAIN. I remember being really struck by Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature a quarter-century ago when he argued that most of the truly wild places were gone. It is hard to find pieces of the planet untouched by civilization (or at least societies). I have visited the archaeological sites of many past civilizations who so despoiled their landscapes that they made deserts of rich fields and ruins of great cities.
burren pavements
The Burren, Ireland. Cromwell’s general said of the landscape, heavily populated millenia earlier, “a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury him.”

If you look on the National Trust website today, you see the fruits of decades of efforts to move from icons to “places that matter” and you see that the targets of the movement in the U.S. are, in addition to architectural landmarks, places as vast and diverse as the Mississippi Delta, Chimney Rock and even Princeton Battlefield. Internationally, the trend is quite similar, and it is instructive to look at the goal of BOTH heritage and natural area conservation, which is NOT stopping change, but MANAGING change.
rui9ncrop and river
Wachau, Austria

Managing change is what heritage conservation is all about. For the Global Heritage Fund project in Guizhou, our goal is to come up with ways of preserving both the structures and folkways of these World Heritage minority villages as they become linked by fast roadways to the big cities. It is a classic GHF problem requiring careful community planning and conservation while working with communities and partners to insure positive economic and social benefit.
heshui waterwheelS
Waterwheel for pounding wood pulp to make paper, HeShui Village, Guizhou

Many of our projects combine heritage conservation with natural area conservation. We have had many support our Classical Mayan archaeological site of El Mirador in Guatemala because it preserves massive Mesoamerican pyramids as well as disappearing rainforest. Similarly, when you trek to our site of Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, you are in both the Tayrona indigenous area and a national park.
CP 39 terraces houses

Over thirty years ago I began working on an effort to save a landscape that had pristine natural areas, historic towns, steel plants and vast agricultural plots. It was a whole story of human existence layered into a landscape and it was a pioneering approach to the concept of conservation as managed change that does not remove nature or history from the economy, but manages its future as a vital – and conserved – element of the economy. I have been privileged to witness the confluence of heritage and natural conservation over those decades, and to be able to participate in it every day.
vw to lock 8s

I & M Canal

April 10, 2009

I gave a tour of the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor on Wednesday – well, half of it, since it is a 100 miles long and you can only do about half of it in a day. We went through Willow Springs, Lemont and then spent time in Lockport and Joliet, visiting OF COURSE the Gaylord Building in Lockport and the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet. I have been doing this tour for OVER 25 years, so it provided some reflection on how much progress there has been over that period of time, but I also noted – having done the same tour for the Art Institute last summer – how much progress there has been in the last 10 months.
rialto-09s
There is now a “Rialto Arts District” featuring three galleries around the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet. There are even more sculptures and murals in that town (and a few less landmarks). The best change is undoubtedly the reopened Public Landing in Lockport, which provides incredibly great vistas of the Gaylord Building and most importantly, from an interpretive point of view, allows you to see how the Gaylord and Norton buildings functioned during their heyday as transshipment warehouses for grain and goods traveling from farm to canal to market.
gaylord-from-ldgs
When I first took a tour group along this route in the fall of 1983, the Gaylord Building was a rotting hulk and a fifth of Joliet’s residents were unemployed. I remember how impatient I was in my 20s at the progress of this grand experiment – the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor – which Jerry Adelmann envisioned. But it has happened. And I’ve gotten older and perhaps less impatient.

Speaking of Jerry, our friend Professor Fan Jianhua of Yunnan will be speaking today at Noon in the 112 S. Michigan Avenue Building about the Architectural Treasures of Weishan. Yunxia “Jingjing” Gao and I will be taking 14 students to Weishan this May to continue work on the preservation of the Weishan Heritage Valley – a national heritage corridor in China which has some roots in Lockport and Jerry’s work. We met with the students Thursday night and they are stoked. Our project will be trying to figure out ways to modernize traditional courtyard homes with modern conveniences, like plumbing.
silk-rd-gates
This is a VERY busy semester. I looked at my “to do” list and it had 20 categories – not 20 things to do, 20 CATEGORIES of things to do – like my three classes, my program, my consulting job, my six or seven boards, and all those extras like tours and lectures. more to come….

Heritage Areas

November 24, 2007



gaylord east2004

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

The AP posted a story today about heritage areas, because Congress approved ten last year, bringing the total to 37 with six more on the way. I was fortunate enough to get my career started working on the very first, the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor and I was in the room when President Reagan signed it into law in August 1984. The picture is the Gaylord Building in the heart of the I & M Canal at Lockport, where I still serve as Chair of the Site Council.

So anyway, I have some experience in this business. The necessarily condensed article from the Associated Press is quite good, although it is always intriguing to see how “news” is made. The curiosity here is the conflict, which every good story needs, but is hard to come by in something as broad-based as heritage areas. Still, thanks to some “budget hawks and property-rights advocates” a record number of “no” votes were recorded on the latest round of heritage areas.

Which is funny, because heritage areas were designed by Republican budget hawks and corporate CEOs to avoid federal land ownership and regulation. These were Reagan-era national parks, devoid of any new environmental or preservation laws, abstaining from any federal control and costing less than last Tuesday’s lunchtime in Baghdad. The first one was promoted by chemical and mining companies and arch-conservatives like Tom Corcoran and Henry Hyde. Funny, some woman named Corcoran is now fighting a heritage area in Maryland, calling it a back door to federal land-use planning that will pressure local governments to plan land use around heritage preservation.

Well, yeah, but so what? What should they plan it around, shopping malls? The Corcoran woman argued for bad taste and talked about public money “so that some elitist can go on a historic tour?”

Well, thank god we have normal people who avoid history. God forbid you should have your region designated a heritage area and allow the average person to appreciate history or become concerned about land use decisions. Unless they are a college-educated property-rights advocate posing as a populist. Then it is okay to have an opinion on land use decisions. Why is telling your neighbor they can’t have a heritage area any different from your neighbor telling you they can? Fact is, every land use regulation since the beginning is arguably an “owner’s club” designed to exclude something or someone that is undesirable. That is why one of the most conservative Supreme Courts found zoning legal in 1926, and a pretty damn conservative one pissed off the left and the right by supporting eminent domain two years ago.

I get the property-rights impulse, or motivation. But they have no logic and even less history. I suppose they would say they prefer land use to be set by the free market, which is something like a first principle. Except for the annoying historical fact that when it comes to land use THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A FREE MARKET ANYWHERE. Ever. Land prices doubled in Chicago overnight in the 1830s thanks to PUBLIC WORKS, and every bit of sprawl speculation and shopping mall development was subsidized by federal and state highways AND STILL IS.

The budget hawks are the ultimate straw man. Eliminate all of the heritage areas and you save enough for what – another 9 hours in Baghdad? another 12 miles of highway on the Great Plains or perhaps 2 miles in the Rockies? One tank? Even the hungriest budget hawk can’t have eyes good enough to see such tiny prey.

But then again, when your principles have been bankrupted you gotta find straw men and tiny prey because on your side of the aisle there aren’t any hawks at all, really.

If you go to the Joliet Arsenal, land taken from farmers by the federal government in the last century for munitions and then given back to the public under the rubric of a heritage area, you will find the butcher bird. It pretends to be a hawk or a bird of prey, but it does not have the tools. So it picks up voles and mice and spears them on Osage orange and other prickly trees because it has neither the talons nor the beak for the job. Just like the pretend budget hawks.