Friday, January 31, 2014

Traditional Arrangement: Daryl Hall's Restoration Projects - National Trust for Historic Preservation

Traditional Arrangement: Daryl Hall's Restoration Projects - National Trust for Historic Preservation  Here's a nice way to start your week off.  Read about singer-musician Daryl Hall's interest in historic home restoration.  Since 2000, Daryl Hall has undertaken a number of home restoration in effort to preserve and protect these lovely old places.  What is gratifying to read is his fidelity to original material and design.  Who needs to have perfection when there is so much beauty found in the imperfections. Mr. Hall also recognizes that sometimes maintaining design and material integrity is an impossibility, highlighting one of the many issues in historic preservation.  When you (re) read the article, check out the pictures of these lovely cozy homes.  This is something that cannot be replicated on a computer.

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A New Experiment for the Eero Saarinen-Designed Bell Labs Building - - PreservationNation Blog

A New Experiment for the Eero Saarinen-Designed Bell Labs Building - - PreservationNation Blog

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Worth Saving?

Peavey Plaza
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hello Everyone:

Today we're going to talk about a topic I haven;t brought up yet, urban landscapes.  I may have touched on it but not really spent any time on the subject.  The source for this article is an a post by Mark Hough, ASLA, a landscape architect, writer, and teacher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.  Prof. Hough recently posted an article on Planetizen, titled "Save that Funky Plaza," where he discusses why urban landscapes should be preserved. I have to agree with the first sentence of the post, "Urban landscapes seem to barely register on the radar of most preservationists..."  When preservationists talk about historic landscapes, it's in reference to traditional gardens, lush parks, historic estates, battlefields-places that fit the idea of what a historic landscape should be like.  However, Prof Hough states, "What it really comes down to is whether landscapes in ever-evolving cities can-or should-be preserved at all."

Peavey Plaza at night
Let's consider, for the moment, that urban landscapes like Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis, Minnesota should be preserved.  If we can rally the troops to save a building, why can't the same be done for an urban landscape?  Prof. Hough points out that one of the problems is that the historic preservation process is skewed toward buildings and dominated by building-centric language: eaves, cornices, porches, et cetera. This places landscape architects at a disadvantage because they are generally addressed in a broad manner, using generic criteria makes it difficult to devise any systematic application across the broad.  Prof. Hough points out, "While you cannot expect to craft any meaningful apples to apples comparison between buildings and landscapes since they are so inherently different, it would be nice if the playing field was a little more even."

Winter/early spring time
Another statement I agree with is "Buildings are essentially objects-coherent (usually) arrangements of walls, roofs, doors, and windows-and are easily identified as such..." Stylistically and aesthetically, they can be as different as night and day but generally a building is a recognizable object and as a static object, it can be preserved.  Not the case with landscapes, which are ephemeral by nature (slight pun) and constantly evolving.  Thus, the term preservation, in the strictest sense, cannot be applied in the same manner you used it in reference to a work of art or a building.  Since a landscape is more dynamic, it can be hard to justify saving, especially as a design expression, since the original design will look different over time.  Just as a lot of the significant and not so significant modernist work of the sixties through eighties is starting to attract interest from preservationists, mid-century modernist urban landscapes are coming of age.  These landscapes represent a potpourri of quality as contemporary places but, more important, embody an era which the look and function of the urban terrain was dramatically altered, thus, according to some, are preservation-worthy.

Peavey Plaza fountain at night
 This brings us to the question of Peavey Plaza and whether or not it was worth saving.  While Mark Hough fervently believes, "...the legacy of landscape architecture and urban in the making of American cities needs to be recognized, since the history of our public realm-the space between buildings-is at least as important as that of the themselves...Saving our design heritage needs to be balanced with the imperative that urban landscapes effectively meet the functional needs of contemporary life..."  Thus, the conundrum set before the city of Minneapolis during the recent successful campaign by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and the Cultural Landscape Foundation to save Peavey Plaza, a concrete, late modernist sunken plaza designed by landscape architect Paul M. Friedberg.

No doubt it was a win for preservation, but Prof. Hough is not totally convinced that "...history is going to prove it the best thing for Minneapolis."  By his own admission, Prof. Hough's encounters with the plaza are minimal.  His point is that despite the fact that it is completely acceptable to to challenge the place making value of any urban landscape, there should be no one ('s) singular aesthetic judgement to influence the preservation process.  This is why The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 laid out objective criteria.  If we whatever is fashionable at the moment govern preservation, then we risk losing much of the foundational blocks contemporary design is built on.  The consensus solution for Peavey Plaza will provide modest updates while allowing the original design to remain mostly intact.  Prof. Hough cites the TCLF as a leader in promoting the need to preserve urban landscapes and allowing for updates, in a responsible manner, as the frequently best solution.

Aerial view of  Jacob Javits Plaza
Martha Schwartz
Manhattan, New York

Professor Mark Hough suggest two alternatives to approach taken by the TCLF: 1) pure preservation-harder to effectively accomplish because the ephemeral nature of landscapes and 2) the tabla rasa approach-wipe the slate clean and start over. The latter was the case at the Jacob Javits Plaza in lower Manhattan, that took place several times of the span of twenty years.  The most recent change wiped away the pop art plaza designed by landscape architect Martha Schwartz, a direct response to an earlier design anchored by the controversial Richard Serra sculpture, Tilted Arc.  Prof, Hough describes Ms, Schwartz's design as, "...a neo-modern, Roberto Burle Marx-esque landscape by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates."  There wasn't much in the way of hand wringing over the removal of Ms. Schwartz's vision of the space and only time will tell if this new version will last longer than its predecessors.

Tilted Arc
Richard Serra, Jacob Javits PlazaManhattan, New York
While it the the tabla rasa approach may seem harsh, sometimes it's the most logical way to work because it keeps the space fresh and responsive to the current needs of the users.  The preservation or urban landscapes, like everything else in preservation, really boils down to advocacy.  If no one cares about a place, or is made to care about it, then chances are that it will be eventually lost.  The preservation of urban landscapes is unique to big cities or famous places; it is applicable to towns and cities across the United States and the world that have all these really cool, funky plaza with or without a design pedigree yet still contribute to the urban fabric.  As our world continues to urbanize, it becomes imperative of preservationists, planners, and community leaders to develop a good set of tools to evaluate urban landscapes objectively and effectively as reflections of their period of significance before deciding their fate.

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Place and National Identity

Independence Hall
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Hello Everyone:

Today, I would like to stay on the topic of memory and national identity.  I know that yesterday's post on the pros and cons of the continued preservation of Auschwitz was depressing.  Therefore, today's post is more upbeat. Thompson Mayes recently posted an interesting blog post on the Preservation Leadership Forum titled "Why Do Old Places Matter?  Civicm State, National, and Universal Identity."  In it, he focus on the bold-faced American monuments that have a place in both the collective history and consciousness of the United States. Places like Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawai'i, and many more all evoke the timeline of American history that stretches back to its pre-colonial period.  Other places like Gettysburg and the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama evoke not only history but the foundational principles of this nation.  Just as these places are readily identified with America, there are old places throughout the world that also embody a collective identity: Zen garden symbolize Japan, stone cottages with thatched roof evoke Ireland, the Pyramids, and the monuments of Greek and Roman antiquity are prized as symbols of our common identity.  These and many other old places: city, region, state, national, or universal maintain and transform our civic identity.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Arlington, Virginia
It is a misconception that Americans don't care about old places.  Quite the contrary, we, like people around the world, do care about the places that embody our collective identity whether at the national or civic level, broadly cultural, for better or worse.  We speak with great fondness and pride when an old place threatened. From the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the Civil War battlefields in Virginia, the site of the epic Battle of the Wilderness, individuals make the effort to save them because they matter to our sense of national self.  The Civil War Trust ( notes on its website, "Can you imagine a fast-food restaurant in the middle of Arlington Cemetery?...Can you imagine destroying the remaining original copies of the Declaration of Independence?  Of course not...each square foot of battlefield land consumed, whole chapters of America's history are being ripped out of the the book of our national memory..."  Once this heritage is gone, it's gone forever and never can be replaced.

Battle of the Wilderness site
Spotsylvania and Orange Counties, Virginia
For the past seventy-five years, the federal government has enacted policies to preserve places related to national identity.  The key drivers of this movement have patriotism and national identity. (The Historic Sites Act of 1935, 16 U.S.C. 461)  Thompson Mayes adds one caveat,"... we aren't as single-minded or critical about our national identity as we may have been..."  Even though many people have stated that patriotism and national identity are the prime reason old paces matter, some preservationists are hesitant to invoke either one as the motivation for saving old places.  According to Mr, Mayes, this reflects what Edward Said described as, "...vexed issue of nationalism and national identity, of how memories of the past are shaped in accordance with a certain notion of what "we" or, for that matter, "they" really are." (Said, 2000)

Daisy Bates House
What is this vexing issue of national identity and how can we speak responsibly about place that reflect our national or other sense of self?  Many of the first places saved from demolition celebrated an idea of a share American heritage-an all encompassing American identity.  Organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolutions, the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, and many other state and local groups saved old places in order to promote American ideals.  These old places inspired people to learn about American history and culture, while acting as a signifier of American identity.  At the same time, they also represented what we aspired to be as a nation. Numerous writers and scholars have been critical about the what was preserved as part of our national identity, by whom and what purpose. (See, e.g. Barthel, 2004)  I have been asked the same question, "What makes something preservation-worthy?"  As a preservationist myself, I am often aware of the fact that the places saved from the wrecking ball tend to whitewash history in such a way that it leaves out a more comprehensive view of history.  The presence of slaves is not acknowledged in the plantation houses, the Native-Americans in the missions, the ethnic communities in the cities they helped build.  Yet all these anonymous places, built and inhabited by countless of anonymous people, are just as vital to who we are as nation as the bold-faced names.

Historic Textile Mill
Lowell, Massachusetts
I agree with Thompson Mayes' assertion that the process of redefining who "we" are is an ongoing journey.  In contemporary times, our old places are reflect a more diverse history. For example, the textile mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, a National Park since 1978.  The Steel mills in Pittsburgh have been saved and slavery on the southern plantations is acknowledged.  I also agree with Mr. Mayes' statement that is it critically important for people, who are actively involved in preservation, to acknowledge the exclusive history of the field and continue to insist that that the untold stories be brought to light if we are to continue to redefine what American-ness is. If you travel across the United States, Alaska, and Hawai'i; talk to a cross-section of people, you will get a wide range of what this nation is about, who it's for, and what it stands for.  This is a good thing because it helps reshape and re-form, and maybe, deepen our understanding of history and identity. The old places are the perfect setting to these discussions and debates.

Corinth Plantation
Corinth, Mississippi
Edward Relph, a geographer who first formulated theories about place wrote that when he reflected back on his early work,

"I realize that place and sense of place, which I then represented as mostly positive, have some very ugly aspects.  they can, for instance be the basis for exclusionary practices, for parochialism, and for xenophobia. There is ample evidence of this in such things as NIMBY attitudes, gated communities, and, more dramatically, the political fragmentation and ethnic cleansing that beset parts of Europe and Africa and that some sometimes justified by appeals to place identity." (Relph, Environment & Architectural Phenomenology Newsletter, 1996)

Palace of the People's Assembly
Berlin, former East Germany
Nationalism and national identity have an ominous legacy.  Thompson Mayes cites his own encounters with Fascist-era buildings in Rome.  He writes, "Mussolini made dramatic changes to the city plan and built hundreds of buildings, many of which consciously sought to tie the Fascist regime with Imperial Rome...The Fascist identity Mussolini sought to create was utterly discredited with the defeat of the Axis in World War II.  But the buildings remain and are actively used today..."  Mr Mayes also shares his experience of viewing a film made by Reynold Reynolds, filmmaker and colleague at the American Academy in Rome, about the demolition of the Palace of the Republic in Berlin, the former site of the People's Assembly of East Germany.  The Palace, built between 1973 and 1974, was located on the former site of the Berliner Schloss (heavily damaged by bombs during the war and destroyed by the German Democratic Republic in 1950), was possibly the most symbolically powerful site in Berlin.  As a signifier of the ideology of the GDR, the Palace was without question the symbol of national identity.  However, that identity was no longer valued once Germany was reunified.  The point of this film was to that many Berliners viewed the demolition of the building as a lost opportunity to acknowledge that part of their history.

Monticello, Charlotte, Virginia
Thomas Jefferson
The ongoing presence of old places allows the acknowledgment of history as our former national selves and the transformation of that former self, over time, as part of the process national redefinition.  For example, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, now, doesn't hide the fact that the third President of the United States was a slave owner.  The presence of the his former slaves and their descendants are visible on the site.  The site is a good venue for an understanding of this aspect of American which could lead to a deeper meaning of national identity.  Thompson Mayes notes that people say that the concept of identity is different in America than in Europe, which tend to be homogenous cultures.  I would agree with this because to me, what constitutes an American identity is more pluralistic view.  There is no such thing as a singular American ethnicity. An American identity is made up of different things: race, religion, ethnicity.  Each of these is part of a larger definition what American-ness is.  It's incredibly difficult to fix a definition of what is an American identity because there never was one definition.

Finally, I want to go back to yesterday's post on the preservation of Auschwitz.  I stated that this place of the unspeakable horror should be preserved because it is part of our global identity.  It is also part of Polish history.  No doubt there are people how would like to see these reminders of a dark and evil past vanish for good but I would argue that that's not what history and historic preservation is about.  Yes, we all love our great, heroic, triumphal monuments that celebrate the happy times but we also need those places of darkness.  The dark places are a more authentic and honest reading of history because they are part of who we are.  Camps such as Auschwitz remind us of what evil humanity is capable of and hopefully we'll someday learn from it.  Our old places are symbols of who we are as a nation, good, bad, or indifferent.

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Monday, January 27, 2014

Holocaust Memorial Day

Hello Everyone:

Wow, I can't believe we're already at 7,109 page views and it's almost the end of January.  I'm so humbled and grateful by your support.  It's pretty impressive to have that many people reading my work in the little over a year that I've doing this.  What it tells me is that there is an audience that wants to know about architecture, historic preservation, urban planning and design.  Therefore, I feel it's my job to supply you with something about the world we live in today.  Thank you all, I'm feeling confident that we can reach our goal of 10,000 page views by April 1st.

Hall of Names
Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial
Jerusalem, Israel
Today we're going to deal with the very delicate issue of the Holocaust, perpetuated by the National Socialist Party between 1933 and 1945.  Specifically, we're going to look at the role memory plays in the preservation of places and artifacts from this black era in history.  It is a delicate subject for Jewish and non-Jewish people alike because it brings up a lot of thorny issues that most would like swept under the rug.  As the survivors die off, the need to gather their stories becomes more and more urgent.  Obscenities such as anti-semitism, ethnic cleansing, and racism still exist in our world.  It makes you think, "have we really learned our lesson from the Holocaust?"  In honor of Holocaust Memorial Day, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and religious scholar posted a copy of a speech he gave at the National Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony in Hyde Park, London in May 2011.  The title of the speech is "Fragments of Memory."  I'd like to use this speech today to talk about why it's important to never forget the dark times in hopes because they are part of our collective human identity.

The aftermath of Kristallnacht
November 1938
Dortmund, Germany
Throughout the history of Europe, time and time again, Jewish communities have been destroyed, synagogues desecrated, people murdered all for being the wrong religion or ethnicity.  Yet despite the litany of death and destruction, the European Jewish people have kept the memories of their heritage alive in their minds and through their prayers, even as they were dispersed throughout the world.  This is also true of the survivors of the Holocaust, who kept alive the delicate fragments of an ancient people even as the National Socialists attempted to destroy them mind, body, and soul. However, we have cultures, in contemporary society, that either forget the past or are held captive by it.  I would posit that attempting to forget the past or being held captive by it is deadly to any society, not because of the fear of repetition but because it is a denial of a part that culture's national identity.  One example that comes to mind on this day of Holocaust commemoration is the debate that centered on the preservation of Auschwitz Concentration and Death Camp.

Auchwitz-Birkenau Memorial
The name Auchwitz immediately conjures up images of unspeakable horror.  Between 1940 and 1945, four million men, women, and children; young, old, and in-between were systematically starved, beaten, tortured, work to death, or outright killed.  Since the end of World War II, the job of conserving the facilities, taking and preserving survivor testimonies, and documentation has fallen to Poland.  The Polish Ministry of Culture has funded the preservation of the 155 structures and 300 ruins, kilometers of roads, the barbed wire and fencing, mountains of documents and personal effects of the victims as evidence of the crimes committed there.  Amidst all this gathering of evidence, conservation work on the site was sporadically undertaken.  In 2003, the Lauder Foundation contributed funds to create a conservation laboratory, sui genris, to a Holocaust memorial site.  In 2010, the Birkenau Camp site came under threat of flooding and the Auschwitz I gate was stolen.  There is no doubt in the minds of many that Auschwitz is a site of ultimate evil that even Hollywood, in its wildest imagination, could never conjure up.  Time has taken its toll on site, which begs the question, why bother saving it at all?

Auchwitz-Birkenau Memorial Plaque
Why, indeed, bother saving this site of ultimate despair and destruction?  This was the question put to historian and author Robert Jan Van Pelt and Wladyslaw Bartozewski, Chairman of the International Auschwitz Council in a debate that took place on January 26, 2009 on the BBC.

Mr. Van Pelt argued that once the last survivor passes away, the camp should be left for nature to reclaim, eventually obliterated from human memory.  Dr. Van Pelt, a professor at the School of Architecture, University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, asks "Should the world marshal enormous resources to preserve empty shells as faint shadows?"  His answer is yes, as long as there are survivors who wish to return to their place of suffering, thus it is appropriate to preserve whatever is left of the camp.  Survivors have shared with Dr. Van Pelt that while they can derive little knowledge from a visit to the camp, it was beneficial for them to return to the place of their nightmares in order to get a sense of closure.  However, what would happen when the last survivor dies?  Quoting former Buchenwald inmate Jorge Semprun's autobiographical novel, The Long Voyage (1963), Dr. Van Pelt says, "when there will no longer be any real memory of this, only the memory of memories related by those who will never know...what all this really was."  What Jorge Semprun hoped was that the flora and fauna reclaim the site, destroying "this camp constructed by man."  Robert Jan Van Pelt further suggests that the best way to honor those who were murdered and those who survived is by sealing it off from the world. letting nature erase it from memory.

Glass memorial plaque
Wladyslaw Bartozewski, Chairman of the International Auschwitz Council, former Polish Foreign Minister, and one-time Auschwitz inmate takes an opposing view.  Mr. Bartozewski argued that the camp should be preserved to bear witness to the fate of the four million people incarcerated in this hell on earth.  As a former inmate, Mr. Bartozewski rightly believes that the only people uniquely qualified to decide the fate of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial are the hundred of thousands killed in the camp.  Mr. Bartozewski states, "The prisoners whom I met as prisoner number 4427, when I was detained in Auschwitz between September 1940 and April 1941, are among them.  To some I owe my survival."  He, like his fellow survivors, will bear witness to the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau that were visited upon many Europeans.  Thus, Mr. Bartozewski and the numerous former prisoners fulfill the obligation to bear witness and convey the truth of what happened.  However, what happens when there is no one left to give voice to those truths?  "The stones will cry out."  The ruins of the crematoria and gas chambers, the empty barracks, the infamous Block 11 and Wall of Death with bear witness, thus it is meaningful to save, regardless of the cost.  This is the nature of humanity, when no tangible evidence remains, events of the past are erased.

Memorial stone of Auschwitz prisoners Rzsewsòw, Poland
Yet, we do rehabilitate buildings, preserve works of art and libraries.  Mr. Bartozewski cites the example of ancient Graeco-Roman culture.  Centuries have past, but the monuments remain.  Then why should we let the places of unspeakable atrocities fall into oblivion?  The place has become a global symbol of unimaginable suffering and extermination.  It is a warning against all forms of obscenities perpetuated against humanity and genocide.  I wonder if we've been paying attention to this warning?  It was both a death and concentration camp.  Following the war, thoughts about demolishing the camp and ploughing up the site were tossed about.  The rationale being a place of unimaginable cruelty should blotted out from the earth.  This is a natural impulse, when  humanity commits evil, he tries to get rid of the evidence.  Mr. Bartozewski declares that Auschwitz-Birkenau must forever remain an unhealed wound, which serves to keep humanity from lapsing into moral complacency.  He argues that if the memorial is erased, the burden falls to our conscience.  "We trample upon the testament of the victims."

My own feelings on the subject of whether or not we should obliterate places of evil are simple, no, we shouldn't.  They are part of our collective national identity.  It's like a person desperately trying to erase all of his/her negative characteristics.  No matter how hard you try, you can't remove every negative personality trait.  So what do you do?  Embrace it, learn and grow from it.  A place like Auschwitz-Birkenau will forever be part of the legacy of humanity, whether it is ultimately reclaimed by nature or remain standing, the memory of the place and the evil committed there will alway be part of our national collective identity.

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Don't Forget To Look Down

Citicorp Center
New York, New York
Hello Everyone:

It's not even the end of January and we're almost to 7,000 page views.  That's so amazing. You all are definitely the best audience a person can ask for.  Let's keep going.  On to today's topic, urban vitality.

When you think of urban vitality, what is the first thing that comes to mind?  This is the question that Mike Powe annd Jenea Wiser ask in their post for the National Trust for Historic Preservation blog, Preservation Green Lab, "The Image of Urban Vitality: Is It Really Just Skyscrapers?"  One image that may come to mind is the mind numbingly tower skyscrapers of New York City.  It seems, these days, that a signifier of a city's success are building that seem to reach up into the sky as far as the eye can see.  Yet, Mr. Powe and Ms. Wiser posit that the connection between a successful city and endlessly tall buildings may be so deserving of out attention.  They propose, the image of the more earthly neighborhoods that are situated just beyond the looming shadows of these emblems of the corporate world and luxury residences.  According to the authors, the symbol of urban vitality may just lie in the older, smaller buildings.

Millennium Park
Chicago, Illinois
The Skyscraper Debate: The pros and cons of the importance of skyscrapers are currently a topic of debate.  Prominent urban thinkers such as Edward Glaeser, Ben Adler, and Matt Yglesias have argued that cities need towering buildings if they are to either remain or aspire to be innovative, affordable, and sustainable. Skyscrapers have the potential to provide space for an incredibly dense number of residences and offices within a relatively small footprint, while at the same time, leave open space for parks and plazas.

Treehugger's Lloyd Alter recently presented an opposing view of the merits of skyscrapers.  Mr. Alter argued, " towers often serve as inefficient, expensive, homes that often succumb to issues of vacancy."  Richard Florida also argued, "skyscrapers often mute the 'spontaneous encounters that provide cities with so much of their social, intellectual, and commercial energy.'"  Tim Halbur, communications director for the Congress for the New Urbanism adds, "while skyscrapers may boost a city's image of rentable space, they also pull life energy away from the streets.

Boston, Massachusetts
Building Down at the Human Scale: Mike Powe and Jeana Wiser concede that we, a society as a whole, need tall buildings to accommodate growing urban populations, however should we underestimate the modest sized buildings? More than fifty years ago, Jane Jacobs wrote that smaller buildings have tremendous value for small businesses, setting the stage for the "ballet of the good city sidewalks."  The late Ms. Jacobs held that neighborhoods were a combination of old and new buildings, more often than not, socially and economically important places a city has to offer.

Human-scaled neighborhood provide walkers with interesting window displays and a variety of small businesses to consider.  How many times have been out and about in your neighborhoods and stopped to check out an interesting window display?   A downtown high-rises offer high-density housing but, small-scale blocks present diverse spaces that see an intense amount of use throughout the workday and weekend.

Finally, this spring the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Green Lab will release a report based on extensive city mapping and study demonstrating the important role that older, smaller, buildings, and mixed-vintage commercial districts play in creating urban vitality.  The intention is to use the data to show that Jane Jacobs was, indeed right, "Older, smaller buildings and diverse urban fabric play a critical role in supporting robust local economies, distinctive local businesses, and unforgettable place where people connect and unwind."

The next time you think of what a city should look like, consider the older, more fascinating neighborhoods.

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Why Do Old Places Matter? Civic, State, National, and Universal Identity - The Blog for Preservation Leadership Forum

Why Do Old Places Matter? Civic, State, National, and Universal Identity - The Blog for Preservation Leadership Forum Read about how older buildings connect us to our civic and national identites.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Things My City Did Best in 2013 part II


Hello Everyone:

Before I launch into part II of Things My City Did Best in 2013, I just wanted to mention that we are well on our way to 10,000 page views by April 1.  I want to give a special shout out to Norway, loud curling outfits and all.  Thanks for all your support and I love your Olympic Curling team's outfit.  That wins a gold medal in my book.  Let's keep up the good work and I feel confident that we can do 10,000  page views by April 1. Now onto the next ten great things cities did in 2013.

French Quarter
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans's Public Schools Came Into Their Own: The city of New Orleans, Louisiana is experiencing a renaissance. Hurricane Katrina turned the "Big Easy" into a blank slate.  One of the public institutions that was overhauled in the wake of the devastating storm was the public school system.  "After the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, the traditional school district model was tossed aside in [a] way no U.S. had ever fathomed...," declares Douglas N. Harris, Associate Professor of Economic and University Endowed Chair in Public Education in Tulane University.  Deploying the nuclear option, all the public school teachers were fired, the teacher union was essentially dismantled, and virtually all the public schools became charter schools.  The intention was to return the schools to district control, once the schools turned around.  Eight years after the devastating storm, many of the schools were qualified to return to district control.  Despite all the hardship, it was easy to see why observers wanted this to happen-mainly to regain a sense of normalcy.  Professor Harris notes, "...the trends in results are generally positive and returning to an apparently failed system seems hard to justify at this point..."  Prof. Harris and his colleagues are still analyzing the data-seeing how well the new system works.  In Prof. Harris' opinion, letting this "temporary" solution play out a little longer was the best thing that happened in 2013.  "Sometimes the best thing a city can do is nothing at all."

New York City Subway station
New York Rebuilt Its Subway System After Sandy: From one devastating storm to the next, in this case, Super storm Sandy.  One of the hardest hit neighborhoods was the Rockaways, an eleven mile peninsula in the southern part of Queens.  Atlantic Cities contributor and Next City writer Sarah Goodyear reports, "The storm dealt a paralyzing blow to transit here.  The tracks of the A train-the sole subway connection to this remote part of the city, carrying 30,000 passengers on a typical weekday-were washed out..."  No sooner did the flood waters recede, the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority began rebuilding and strengthening the A train crossing.  Seven months after the storm destroyed the crossing, the first train-a 1930s era model, in honor of the occasion-ran from the Howard Beach station back across the water toward the Rockaways. The tracks were protected by a two-mile long, 40-foot-high seawall made of marine steel, sunk 30 feet into the soft ground under the bay.  Historically, the Rockaways have been a long isolated and neglected part of New York.  However, in a crucial moment, New York City wasn't going to let them go underwater.

Downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Lowered Crime and Established a Land Bank: "Philly did two incredible things this year: it created a land bank and reduced its homicide levels to the lowest the city has seen in almost 50 years...," says Diana Lind, Editor of Next City.  The land bank will have authority over more than 40,000 vacant properties throughout the city.  The goal is to move these properties into better uses which will improver the quality of life in the neighborhoods, increase property values and restore the city's tax base, "...creating a virtuous cycle for a stronger city."  The drop in the crime rate is amazing in itself.  Ms. Lind cites the empowerment of police officers to take over crime-ridden corners, mapping crime to prevent from the start, a few changes in leadership paid off in a very big way.  In previous years, all the good news coming out of Philadelphia was culturally related (not that this a bad thing) but it's also fantastic to read about new urban initiatives such as a land bank and improved policing that will better the quality of life for the 25% of the city's population that lives in poverty.

Phoenix skyline
Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix got Serious About Fostering a Residential Downtown: Lately, it seems that all the news coming out of the state of Arizona is centered around hard-core Republican party policies, SB1040, for example.  R.J. Price, vice-President of Marketing and Communications Downtown Phoenix Partnership shares, "After 20-plus years spent obsessing over skyscrapers, civic plazas, sport arenas, hotels and mixed-used developments, i 2013 downtown Phoenix got serious about something much more integral to its urban health, a neighborhood..."  Civic planners and official approved a program of affordable residential communities to meet the increased demand from the growing academic population.  Further, the city embraced non-auto mobility through pedestrian-oriented streetscape enhancements, increased bike paths, a bike share program (similar to Chicago's), and a number of of activation initiatives such as pop-up parks and public art installations.  "...It began to listening to its most passionate residents in an effort to better understand what kind o f downtown they want."

Floating Duck
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh Got a Giant Floating Duck: Yes, that's a giant rubber duck you're looking at.  I keep looking for a bar of soap.  "There's a lot to say about Pittsburgh in 2013, but the one thing that brought our community together this was the giant rubber duck that made its home on the Allegheny River..."  This rubber ducky is the work of Florentijin Hofman and made its North American debut courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Ducky had hundreds of thousands of Pittsburghers quaking up by the downtown waterfront, making headlines in the newspapers and morning chat shows. Cell phones a plenty were going off, no doubt keeping instagram busy, documenting what an interesting and exciting city Pittsburgh is.

Multnomah Village
Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon Got a Bunch of New Sidewalks: "The best thing Portland did this year was reinstating funding to install sidewalks on southeast 136th Street between Powell Rd and Division in East Portland," says Taz Loomans, Editor-in-Chief of The Blooming Rock Blog.  At the beginning of 2013, the city diverted funds from sidewalk repair towards road maintenance.  However, after a five-year-old girl was killed crossing the street, community advocates demanded that civic officials deal with the terrible walking conditions in East Portland.  In April, Mayor Charlie Hales announced the reinstatement of the $1.2 million funding needed for sidewalks on this dangerous road.  Interesting how it always takes a tragedy to spur action from civic leaders.  Even though it's only a two-mile stretch of road, this street improvement is hopefully a sign of "...Portland's commitment to improve the outer areas of Portland that have of Portland that have been neglected during its inner-city revitalization."

Providence, Rhode Island
Providence Tried to Change How Poor Parents Talk to Their Kids: Talking to one's children, regardless of the subject, is never easy.  However, just the act of parents talking to their children has the ability to increase a child's vocabulary.  Aaron M. Renn, the author of The Urbanophile shares, "In March 2013 Providence was awarded the Grand Prize of $5 million in the Bloomberg Philanthropy Mayor's Challenge..."  The monetary award was given for a program that went beyond the traditional pre-Kindergarten educational program, aimed specifically at improvements in early childhood vocabulary.  This program will not only measure vocabulary, but also provide tutoring and teaching tools to assist parents in closing the 'word gap' in low-income homes.  Mr. Renn enthuses, "Not only will this be amazing for the kids, it shows Providence can compete and win in elite-level competitions.

Union Square
San Francisco, California
San Francisco Embraced the Bike: it seems strange that a city so compact as San Francisco would take so long to embrace the bicycle.  However, Allison Arieff, Content Strategist at SPUR reports, "One of the best things San Francisco did this was 'embrace the bike'"  The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency recently release a study, "2013 Bicycle Count Report," which shows that the number of people using bicycle transportation has increased a dramatic 96 percent since 2006.  Additionally, the "...Bay Area Bikeshare was launched, hundreds of new bikes lanes were added, bike are now allowed on BART trains and several folks have elevate the art of the bike rack into an art."

Granville Island Public Market
Granville Island, Vancouver BC, Canada
Vancouver Figured Out How to Fix the Suburban Mall: Brent Toderian, consultant with TODERIAN UrbanWORKS, declares, "2013 has been a banner year across the region in hyper-charging this rethinking and rebuilding, all based on the transformative power of public transit..."  What Mr. Toderian is saying is the City has begun the process of urbanizing the car-oriented malls and seventies-era town centers, turning them into streets and new public places.  It isn't about creating a Disney-esque "main street" or a "better suburb," this is about creating a real urban condition with a dense combination of housing and employment opportunities, great transit access, and a pedestrian oriented design.

Penn Quarter
Washington D.C.
Washington D.C., Built a Better Zoning Code: Zoning codes are a good thing.  Really, trust me.  You want zoning codes because no one wants to live next to a slaughter house or work next to a garbage dump site.  Harriet Tregoning, director of the D.C, Office of Planning reports, "There are several improvement Washington made this year, from the esoteric to the more sublime.  One was getting an update of the 1958 zoning code after hundreds and hundreds of revisions..."  The Washington D.C, Office of Planning temporarily experimented with activating under-used spaces to re-animate the most common type of space in the American capitol-the lobby.  The City has also begun a bike-sharing program-which they continued to expand in the city.  Ms. Tregoning reports, "Now we have 38 percent of households car-free and 83 percent with just one or fewer cars, according to the American Community Survey."

These are just of twenty great things that cities did in 2013.  Hopefully 2014 will bring more wonderful things to the urban environment.  

Like me on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Monday, January 20, 2014

Things My City Did Best in 2013 part I

Hello Everyone:

Today is the official Martin Luther King, Jr's Birthday celebration in the United States.  For many it's a day off and for others, it's a chance to reflect on the accomplishments of this giant in the Civil Rights Movement.  One of the important issues in the Civil Rights movements was social equality in the cities.  In another year-end article, the staff writers at the Atlantic Cities complied a list of twenty American cities that shared the best things they did during 2013. Whether it was a collective social cultural event like Batkid, a fantastic new business program, or a successful anti-poverty program, cities from coast to coast implemented new initiatives to promote some form of social equality for their residents.  Here is part one of the Atlantic Cities' list of the best thing my city did this year.

Atlanta sprawl
Atlanta's Alternative Transportation Boom: like Los Angeles, the city of Atlanta, Georgia sprawls out in every direction.  Thus, an efficient and reliable public transportation system is crucial to connecting the divested parts of the city with employment and education opportunities.  In 2013, civic officials implemented the Atlanta Belt Line, which has already generated a billion dollars of investment in parks and apartments.  "I think that Atlanta has really done a great job harnessing the power of alternative transportation this year, even more so than it has in the past," says Darin Givens, editor of Atlanta Urbanist.  The downtown streetcars will move throughout historic neighborhoods, such as the one where MLK, Jr. grew up.  This community has faced disinvestment for decades, now it's undergoing a transformation and even being forced to deal with re-zoning issues.  The other big initiative centered around some of the old park-and-ride MARTA sites.

Boston, Massachusetts
Toward A 'Greater Boston:' overflowing crowds at Boston pub Row 34 is a common Wednesday night feature. The pub is located on the edge of former Fort Point warehouses and looks out to the Seaport, the new urban frontier.  If you didn't know it was Boston, you'd think you were in Brooklyn, New York.  Boston is booming, 2013 was another gold star year, but one issue remains unresolved.  Can a 'Greater Boston' become more of a region.  This is the question Anthony Flint, Atlantic Cities contributor and fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy is considering.  Boston and Cambridge compete with each and pending departure of Partners Healthcare to a new development in Somerville have disappointed Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh.  The successor of Thomas M. Menino will face the issue of spreading the wealth around the metropolitan region or more turf battles, akin to clan warfare.

Buffalo at nigh
Buffalo Turned Its Old Grain Silos Into Art: "Over the past decade, the long-dormant industrial infrastructure that lines the Buffalo river has come slowly creaking back to life..," reports Colin Dabkowski, art critic for the Buffalo News.  One of the many noteworthy projects that played a part in removing the rust in this segment of the "Rust Belt" in 2013 was the ambitious Torn Space Theater's environmental theater production Motion Picture.  For two August evenings, the production transformed one of the grittiest (another overused word)  parts of the spread out Silo City into one enormous stage: Digital projections were shown against the backdrop of the grain-elevator silos, while actor, horse-back riders, war re-enactors, and a helicopter pilot acted out a grand love story in the air above.  Does it sound like much?  Probably, but it was a powerful example of the artist's hand in reactivating and imagining new public spaces.  The real question is whether these artists are paving the way for Buffalo's slowly re-emerging economy or just creating a space for themselves?

Lake Michigan
Chicago, Illinois
Chicago Embraced the Bike: "the city of broad shoulders" is a city that moves. According to Ankur Thakkar, digital director for the City of Chicago, "In Chicago we move by air, water, rail, road, sidewalk and-increasingly-bike lane."  In 2013 Mayor Rahm Emanuel launch Chicago's bike-sharing program, Divvy Bikes.  The program has been used 740,000 times between 300 stations across the city.  "We're a city of neighborhoods, with with more than 20 miles of bike lanes to enjoy, being able to jump on a bike whenever and wherever makes me feel like I'm 'hacking' the city, allowing me to see the neighborhoods of Chicago anew," continues Mr. Thakkar.  Or at least, feel like a little boy again.

Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati Held an Awesome Music and Light Show in a Renovated Historic Park: judging from the picture on the left, awesome is an understatement.  Randy A. Sims, owner and managing editor of Urbancity reports, "As Cincinnati has experienced a bit of a renaissance, much of it focus has been on building public assets like parks and investing in cultural institutions..." These investments have fleshed out the more traditional approach to urban development across the United States.  One example is the recent $46 million renovation and expansion of Washington Park, one of Cincinnati's oldest, and a landmark in the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in the northern part of downtown.  Again, looking at the photograph, it's more like over-the-top.  Over one weekend last August, the newly renovated and expanded park was on display during LumenoCity-a symphonic orchestra concert complete with a light show projected onto the Music Hall. Beat that Hollywood Bowl.

Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland's Art Museum Turned a Stunning New Atrium Into a Public Gathering Place: Cleveland, Ohio, look the butt of jokes until the Rock and Roll Hall Fame took up residence in 1995.  Bubbling with civic enthusiasm, Anne Trubek, founding editor of Belt magazine describes her Cleveland 2013, "...full of energy, risk-taking, and community-based huzzahs..." The city reached a cultural high-point last year when the Cleveland Museum of Art's new atrium became a public gathering place and the Cleveland Orchestra did a neighborhood-based residency.  From an economic standpoint, developments in Waterloo, St. Clair-Superior, and Detroit-Shoreway laid the foundation for 2014, that Ms. Trubek hopes will be the envy of the nation.  Obviously Ms. Trubek does not lack in any civic pride.  Ms. Trubek points out that this cultural and economic high was the result of a phone call that demonstrated her city's "...gritty, rising zeitgeist."  The moral of the story, pick up the phone.

Detroit skyline at night
Detroit's City Council Came Into Its Own: 2013 was another bad year for the city of Detroit, Michigan capped off by the declaration of bankruptcy.  However, not everything was so bleak.  The Detroit City Council took center stage, emerging as newly reformed, newly represented governmental body.  Aaron Foley, a writer with Japolnik, reports that in a city grim news is the norm, a fresh start is in the offing.  Mary Barra is the first woman appointed the head of General Motors, the election of Mayor Dave Bing that blurred the longtime racial divide, and international concern over the city's art collection all dominated local headlines.  However, the big story, according to Mr. Foley is the re-emergence of the City Council as a functional legislative body.  Congress are you paying attention?  The Detroit City Council got rid of some of the more controversial members, replacing them with a new crop using a by-district model, unseen since 1918.  The by-district model allows residents neighborhood-based representation, such as first-time member Raquel Castañeda of District 6, while more dubious members sit out this term.

Bear Creek Pioneer Park
Houston, Texas
Houston Expanded Its Parks: the pending demolition of the Houston Astrodome (there's still time to save it) was not the only big story out this port city in Texas.  Tory Gattis, president of Houston Strategies, reports, "In 2013, Houston began work on the Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative funded by  $100 million of private funds in addition to a voter-approved $166 million Parks bond at the 2012..."  This means that in six years, Houston will have over 150 miles of connected biking and walking paths lining 1,500 acres of newly connected parks.  This would accomplish a number of goals for less than half the cost.  The parks would also provide a wildlife habitat, help water quality and flood control, and unite the communities with safe. off-street paths for recreational and transportation alternatives.

CicLAvia Los Angeles
Venice Beach
Los Angeles Cyclists Took to the Streets: the eighties New Wave band (featuring the extraordinary Warren Cuccurillo) once sang "no body walks in L.A."  Even though, the band was referring to the fact that everyone drives, it could also imply CicLAvia.  Damien Newton, the editor of Streetblog Los Angeles, writes, "The best thing that happened in Los Angeles is the expansion of our Open Street Festival known as CicLAvia..."  Los Angeles' CicLAvia was inspired by Columbia's ciclavia events, large portions of Los Angeles' streets are shut off to automobile traffic and made available to all other forms of traffic.  Yours truly has witnessed this and it's amazing to see all the bicycles riding through otherwise busy streets reveling in the freedom.  Yours truly concurs with Mr. Newton when he emphatically states, "Literally hundreds of thousands of people came out to three events, one on iconic Wilshire Boulevard (saw that one), one on Venice Blvd. from DTLA to the Venice Beach, and a third in Downtown Los Angeles with tendril reaching into Boyle Heights, South L.A., Koreatown, and Chinatown..."  Thanks to the popularity of this event, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, has set aside $2 million for smaller cities to stage this event.

Pérez Art Museum Miami
Miami, Florida
Miami Got a World-Class Downtown Art Museum: Jordan Melnick, the creator of Sktchy iPhone app and editor of Beached Miami describes 2013 in Miami, Florida as "standout."  Miami stood this year for "...Good things like rallying to stave off mass public library closures and hosting an Arcade Fire benefit show at the Little Haiti Cultural Center.  Bad things like giving Walmart the green light to build a store in Midtown.  And glorious things like winning the NBA championship in exhilarating fashion..."  However, the absolute very best thing the city of Miami did was open the Pérez Art Museum Miami (Miami Art Museum for short) in the heart of downtown.  Mr. Melnick bubbles with overflowing enthusiasm about its great foundational collection.  He brims with joys over the fact, "It's a symbol of a young city's ongoing maturation and convincing harbinger of great things to come.

In tomorrow's post, we'll look at the next ten cities on this list of best things American cities did in 2013.  These are all wonderful developments that have great potential to engage disparate parts of the urban landscape.  Only time will tell if all these fantastic developments have any measurable impact.

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Restoring the Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash

"Well hello everybody, I'm Johnny Cash."  Sorry, it's just yours truly with today's blog post on legendary singer-songwriter Johnny Cash.  Specifically, how the boyhood home of the Man in Black shaped his life and music.  Johnny Cash grew up in the northeastern Arkansas community of Dyess.  He and his family moved to the rural community from Kingsland in southern Arkansas in 1935, when Johnny was three years-old.  In his recent blog post for PreservationNation Blog (January 2, 2014), titled "How Johnny Cash's Boyhood Home Shaped the Man in Black," David Robert Weible looks at how growing up in Dyess left its mark on the late singer.  Even better, now fans of Johnny Cash will be able to visit his boyhood home and get a glimpse at the forces that shaped the man and his music.

Dyess, Arkansas
Listening to songs like "I Walk The Line" or "Ring of Fire," it's easy to imagine that the words and music of those Cash classics reflected the life and times of the singer.  Now, the community of Dyess is giving fans of this music icon a chance to see where he spent time, caused troubled, learned life's lessons, which inspired contemporary folk, rock, blues, and country music.  The community of Dyess was a New Deal resettlement program aimed at financially ruined farmers in order to use their skills to develop new land.  The program encompassed 16,000 acres acquired by the Federal government and sectioned off into small 20- to 40-acre homesteads that each family was responsible for clearing and making productive.  For a family to chosen to receive a plot, they had to prove that they were previously successful farmers and healthy enough to work the nearly impossible mix of soil that when wet was like tar and dry like concrete at times.  According to Ruth Hawkins, Arkansas Heritage Sites Director at Arkansas State University, "I think the values that Johnny Cash held throughout his life and the values he had on family and concern for his fellow man came from Dyess."
Johnny Cash Boyhood Home Museum
Dyess, Arkansas

David Robert Weible echoes this statement, "In fact, many of Cash's songs have direct ties to his time in Dyess."  One example is the song "Five Feet High and Rising," which recall the Flood of 1937 which forced the approximately 500 families of Dyess to flee to Little Rock until the waters receded.  There were songs about the Cash family's experiences during the Depression: "I'm Busted" and "Pickin' Time." No explanation needed here.  The newly resettled residents of Dyess, referred to as Colonists, were assigned housing based on the number of children they had, since the Cashes had five small children when they moved in, they were assigned a five-room house-the largest available.  At about 1,000 square feet, it wasn't exactly the grandest house in the neighborhood but it was big enough.  When the Cash children weren't helping out on the farm, they joined their mother in song around the family piano.

Tommy Cash and Joanne Cash Yates
Brother and sister of Johnny Cash
When the Cashes sold the house in 1954, Johnny Cash was already in Memphis, Tennessee.  Over the years, the house changed owners numerous times and became difficult to maintain.  The "gumbo" soil's cracking and weathering quickly dislodged the foundation from the house.  With assistance from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Ruth Hawkins and Arkansas State University acquired the house in 2011 and rapidly set about restoring the place.  Together with the remaining members of the Cash family, they organized music festivals in neighboring Jonesboro that attracted country music legend Willie Nelson and Vince Gill to help raise funds for the project.

The porch of the Cash House
The bulk of the restoration cost went into shoring up the ground beneath the foundation as crews dug a seven-foot deep pit on the house's footprint and repacked with more stable soil than the local "gumbo."  The foundation was replaced with a concrete foundation and the house was mounted on concrete piers.  On the interior, the original wood paneling was restored and the new floors were removed, revealing the original linoleum.  In all, the project totaled $350,000, not a princely sum like some restoration projects but good enough for the boyhood home of a musical titan.  The house will be open to the public in April as museum dedicated to the experiences of Johnny Cash's childhood years.  "We want it to look lie they just steeped out the door to go to church," says Ms. Hawkins.  At the same time, the house isn't intended to be a shrine to Johnny Cash, a la Graceland.  Instead, the house will be part of a larger project that includes the restoration of an old community administration building and theater that will depict the community's Depression-era residents as whole.  Just like the songs of the Man in Black.

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram