Posts Tagged ‘I & M Canal’

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

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GHF 2.0

August 29, 2013

The Global Heritage Fund was founded a decade ago to “help preserve and sustain the most significant and endangered heritage sites in the developing world.” Part of the reason I came to California to join, and now run, this organization was because of this mission and the methodology – Preservation By Design® – that Founder Jeff Morgan established to realize the mission.
CP i main iBest
and the chance to see incredible sites like this Tayrona city dating back 1300 years in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia.

Jeff trademarked his approach: a focus on careful PLANNING – both conservation planning and site management planning; the latest in scientific CONSERVATION; local and national PARTNERSHIPS; and most importantly, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. What attracted me to the organization back in 2008 was this mission and methodology, because it was in line with my understanding of historic preservation/heritage conservation, an understanding you can see repeated in this blog over the last eight years.
PY Nan st vwS
Pingyao, China. I first visited this site for GHF in 2008.

I was thinking about some of my early blogs back in 2005, especially the one called Heresy and Apostasy. I had, together with one of the big preservation organizations, agreed to a plan that saved some buildings but demolished others. This upset the holy hermits of preservation, who like all ideologues and fundamentalists, brook no blurred lines in their pursuit of purity.
Bas Relief detailD
No blurred lines here – Jayavarman VII bas-relief, Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

Not only did I find that approach unrealistic and unproductive in 2005, I found it that way in 1983 when I was the punk with the halo. That is because my introduction to historic preservation was through the heritage area, a Reagan-era public-private partnership model that paired historic preservation with natural conservation, tourism, and economic development. Sound familiar?
lock 8 houseS
Lock 8 and 1840s locktender’s house, Aux Sable, Illinois

Now of course I screamed and shouted to save buildings, but for over thirty years I have understood preservation/conservation to be an economic strategy. I recognize the distinction between the museum and the everyday to be an artificial distinction. You can raise money to preserve a museum piece, to be sure, but you need to keep raising that money – forever. I soon realized that the majority of preservation happens not by removing objects from our everyday and our economy, but by placing them at the center of our everyday economy. By exploiting their use value.
HMB JailS
cuz it costs lots of money to remove things from society

Within the basic impulse to SAVE something is the impulse to keep it forever from harm, and the tendency to remove it from the economic everyday that threatened it. But this tendency is dead wrong on every level, because hermetic removal is at best a temporary solution. You can no more escape the economic everyday than you can escape the atmosphere. Moreover, if we take a piece of heritage and say, make it a house museum, we are in fact repurposing the site for a new use. One that happens to suck eggs economically, for the most part.
c-m overhang
Wanna lose a million dollars a year? Take a general store and turn it into a house museum.

So Global Heritage Fund was designed to help communities lift themselves out of poverty by conserving their world heritage. Job training in conservation. Community based tourism. Maintenance and enhancement of craft traditions. Building community value and investment by saving its root heritage.
jianziS
jianzi, Pingyao

So, the obvious question is: are you just selling out? Is this also a legacy of thirty years of neoliberal backlash that just needs a robust statist solution where everything valuable stays in the museum where it belongs? No. The reality is this: I can spend millions of dollars restoring a heritage site, but if the local community does not benefit from that site, all of my money is wasted and it will just need to be preserved again ten or twenty years from now.

Worse, if an outside NGO comes in and conserves an architectural or archaeological treasure without involving the local community FROM THE GET-GO, you not only create a dependency on millions of dollars every decade; but you alienate the locals, who might decide to loot the site, since they have lost ownership of it.
chornankap sacerdotisa
chotune museum
This is last year’s discovery of a sacerdotista at Chornankap; and the museum of Chotune/Chornankap in Peru. There used to be looters there. Now the local community supports the archaeological sites and everyone gets their wedding pictures taken in front of the museum. If looters come, the community chases them away.

So, the reality is that this model of investing the community with an initial stake in the project is better for the conservation of the site. And better for the community. In fact, it is the true model of sustainability. We have been misled (I also found a 2005 blog about “greenwashing”) into thinking sustainability is in the DESIGN. No, it is in the design process, which means it is something you PLAN, by insuring that long-term stewards are part of the project from the beginning.
ctyd 4doc-77
Local planners documenting courtyards in Pingyao, 2008

Of course, we still have to raise money, but ideally we can leverage more money and investment with this model. My vision for GHF 2.0 is to take this to the next step: to lead with expertise in conservation science; to plan with community needs and desires first; to leverage multiple partnerships to maximize impact; to identify economically viable models for sustaining sites; and to promote community development as the best way to save heritage. Because it is.
Bas Relief workers on wall

We are celebrating our first ten years with a big Gala here in Silicon Valley on October 2, which you can read about here. In the meantime, visit our website and learn about projects, investigations, future tours and an organization that understands how heritage conservation has always worked. And always will.

floods keep me busy

September 30, 2008

It felt like I was crisscrossing the northern half of the state last week, and in a sense, I was. I did two tours for the Art Institute on Wednesday and Thursday to LaSalle, to visit the incomparable Hegeler-Carus mansion, an 1874 Italianate-cum-Second Empire extravaganza that never left the family, and to ride the new historic canal boat on the I & M Canal at Lock 14. The floods of almost two weeks earlier prevented us from riding on Wednesday and curtailed our ride Thursday.


The floods also drew me out Wednesday afternoon post-tour to Plano, to see the Farnsworth House and assess the damage.
There is good news and bad news. The good news is that the electricity is working and, more importantly, so is the insurance. The bad news? The wardrobe may be a loss – an accurate 1996 replica of the original.
The end walls of primavera wood are in bad shape, and we will probably debate how much needs to be replaced. We need to investigate the structure underneath the travertine panels, and we also have water in the window wells that needs to be addressed.
We discussed strategies for opening the house on a limited basis during construction – as was done at Montpelier – so people could see the process. This was a good idea – I saw Montpelier during the process and loved it.

We also have to deal with the question: the house has been flooded or almost flooded by 3 100-year floods in 12 years – why don’t you move it? Or put it on retractable stilts or somehow get it out of the way of the floodwaters? Well, of course the first answer is we saved it 5 years ago from being moved out of state, and despite Mies’ love of “universal architecture” this was designed for a specific location and a specific client.
The second answer occurred to me as I was perusing my latest issue of ARCHAEOLOGY which described the various depredations threatening the Egyptian sites at Thebes. My first memory of National Geographic magazine is the cover in the 1960s when they moved the Ramses tomb to make way for Aswan Dam. So, why not move Farnsworth House? Well, my memory of that NG cover was how they had to hack Ramses into little pieces to move him – the same is true of Farnsworth House. Even though we are dealing with postwar building techniques, I doubt we could get those hidden spot welds on the I-beams right today. We don’t like what happened in Thebes, and now the Valley of the Kings is subject to flash floods thanks to the unintended effects of the dam, which got rid of the annual floods and siltation, which caused farmers to increase both irrigation (which increased floods) and fertilizer use (which then threatens the stone artifacts with its toxicity). So, flooding – the human-directed kind – is a huge issue in both places. But the question (To move or not to move?) must be asked and we at Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust are going to be exploring all of the options very seriously. In fact, we hope soon to welcome public suggestions for solutions and how much they would cost.

After the tour Thursday I visited with four of the veterans of our lovely Art Institute China trip this summer as the museum celebrated its tour programs. Friday I zipped out to Lockport for the Gaylord Building Site Council meeting, where we debated the budget and the upcoming opening of the Lincoln Landing – a new park in front of the building that replaces the cluttered cabin collection of Pioneer Settlement with a new sculpture celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s connection to the canal. The park design is nice and will enhance the building.

But there is a nagging Lincoln thing here. Lincoln is my favorite President and I can recite the Gettysburg Address by heart, but as a historian I am troubled by our Illinois tendency to equate Lincoln with ALL local history. The story of the I & M Canal, which straddled the continent, built Chicago and opened up the West to settlement and industry even before the railroads, is a hell of an historical story. It doesn’t need Lincoln to make it important. Fascinating historical narratives are buried in indifference, awaiting the brush of Lincoln’s sleeve to be made real. The same thing happens in architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright, especially in Oak Park. A nice building is a nice building and a good design is a good design, but unless Frank Lloyd Wright sneezed on the blueprints, it isn’t really great architecture.

Anyway, I’m not done with Friday. I headed out Friday evening to the Dunham Riding Club in Wayne to give a talk for the Preservation Partners of the Tri-Cities on the National Register (I’ll be doing a similar discussion in Kenilworth in a couple of weeks). A nice audience and they were offering up a super tour weekend, including the stunning 1937 Campana Building in Batavia. It’s a great building and a stunning tower-and-wings that looks ready to soar above the farm fields on the Fox Valley. I would hazard to say it is a more impressive building that the nearby Fabyan Villa in Geneva, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Abraham Lincoln must have been involved somehow….

tomorrow? Hull House…