Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Where The City Out Paces The Suburbs

New housing construction
Aliso Viejo, California
Hello Everyone:

Since I'm in a clean-out-the-drop box mode, I decided to pull out this article written by Richard Florida for City Lab titled, "Where Cities Are Growing Faster Than Their Suburbs."  It's a good look at where, in the United States, urban growth is outpacing suburban growth.  For much of the past fifty years, suburbs grew faster than cities. However, over the last ten years, the reverse has been true. This phenomenon is something that journalist and executive editor of Governing, Alan Ehrenhalt refers to as "the great inversion."  Mr. Ehrenhalt is also the author of the book The Great Inversion And The Future Of The American City, in which he fully outlines the major trends that driving the shift in the way we live.  Essentially, "the great inversion" is a "trading of places within metropolitan areas." (  Mr. Florida points that "...the question of where growth is centered-in cities or suburbs-has emerged as one of the great dividing lines in the debate over urban America's future.

Urbanized Areas and Urban Clusters 2010
In May of this year, Brookings Institution demographer William Frey analyzed the most current census data on population growth in order to address this question.  Mr. Frey focused on information for the first third of the decade, using the numbers between 2010 and July 2013, comparing the growth of "primary cities" and their suburbs throughout America's largest metropolitan areas (i.e. those with a million or greater people).  His conclusions appear to be good news for urbanists.  In general, the data appears to support the idea of a great inversion form the previous era's mass suburbanization. Between 2010 and 2013, main urban populations have grown faster than their suburban counterparts.  However, Mr. Frey revealed that this gap closes by 2012-13,  Overall, the main cities in metropolitan regions grew at a rates of 1.02 percent from 2012 to 2013, down .11 percent from the year before.  Meanwhile, the attending suburban regions, grew .96 percent in that same time period, roughly the same .95 percent as the year before.

Denver, Colorado

William Frey found that nineteen out of the fifty-one largest metropolitan regions saw their central cities grow faster then the surrounding suburbs from 2012-13.  Specifically, these include most of the knowledge economy centers such as: New York, Washington D.C., Denver, and Seattle.  Richard Florida decided to do a little more research into the great inversion. With the help of his team at Martin Prosperity Institute, Mr. Florida took a closer look where and what of urban and suburban growth over the same time frames, comparing metrics to overall metropolitan growth.

Population growth in metropolitan areas
Zara Matheson of MPI, with the help of ESRI technology, constructed a map that presents the breakdown of overall demographic growth in American's biggest metropolitan areas.  The findings revealed something quite fascinating.  While several metropolitan areas saw very fast rates of growth in their primary cities, seven of which experienced a 2 percent increase, this increase was not in the usual places of urban revival.  Rather, they included places of high-tech knowledge based economies such as: San Jose, Austin, Raleigh-Cary, Denver, and Seattle.  Other places that experienced growth were in the energy producing centers: Houston, Oklahoma City, and New Orleans; also the Sun Belt Cities of Phoenix, Orlando, and San Antonio also show growth.  What these non-primary cities have in common is that they experienced growth faster in their primary faster than the San Francisco, New York, and Boston metropolitan areas did.

Best Cities Score
The metropolitan area where the primary city grew the fastest in contrast to the suburb was New Orleans, where the main city grew 2.4 percent compared to 0.5 percent for the suburbs.  This was a result of rapid urban rebuilding following Hurricane Katrina, Seattle, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul area also saw marked faster growth in their main cities than their suburbs, albeit, the margin was substantially small than in New Orleans.  Urban growth outpaced suburban growth in Columbus, Richmond, Denver, Washington D.C., San Diego, Raleigh, Boston, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Tampa Orland, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.  Chicago and Portland also experienced similar growth urban/suburban growth rates.

By contrast, suburban growth exceeded urban increases in the remaining thirty large metropolitan areas.  These include the traditionally sprawl-centric Sun Belt areas such as Jacksonville, Houston, Las Vegas, and Nashville as well as Rust Belt cities such as Detroit, Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Cleveland.  The big shock was the growth rate of the suburbs near San Francisco, which grew 1.5 percent, more than the 1.3 percent seen by the primary city.  Just as shocking was the fact that primary city growth out distanced suburban growth in the nerd epicenter of Silicon Valley, where the primary city-San Jose metro-grew 1.5 percent in contrast to the 1.3 percent growth rate of the suburbs.

Comparing metropolitan, city, and suburban growth
Zara Matheson
The chart on the left compare the growth (and declination) rates for primary city, suburban, and overall metropolitan growth for the twenty largest American metropolitan areas.  Looking a little closer at how city, suburban, and metropolitan growth rates stack up, Mr. Florida's colleague Charlotta Mellander ran a correlation analysis on these numbers and found that they were all closely correlated.  Both urban and suburban growth were very closely connected to overall metropolitan growth with correlations of .90 and .96 each, while urban and suburban growth were closely linked to each with a correlation of .77.  In short, growth creates growth.

Thus, even though the new numbers conclude that urban growth is slightly down from 2010-11, there is little reason to conclude that the urban revival was a momentary flash.  Urban growth is still higher than suburban growth in one-third of all large metropolitan areas.  While it is true that the current figure, nineteen metropolitan areas, is lower than the 2010-11 number of twenty-seven metro, more than half, saw rapid growth in their primary cities.  Nevertheless, the current number of growing metropolitan areas remains far ahead of where it was in the previous decade, when William Frey concluded that just five large metropolitan areas saw faster growth in their primary cities than their suburbs during the 2000s.  Therefore, it would seem that the era of suburban growth, for better or worse, has come to a close.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Historic Properties Redevelopment Program


Historic trolley depot
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Hello Everyone:

Once again, the drop box folder seems to be in need of cleaning out.  To put a dent in the clutter, I found this wonderful blog post by Melissa Jest for the Preservation Leadership Forum titled "New Program for Historic Property Developers Launches."  As I've said time and again, preservation is not about being anti-development, it's anti-inappropriate development.  To wit, our friends at the National Trust for Historic Preservation have launched a new program called Historic Property Redevelopment Program.  Supported by the 1772 Foundation, the program is designed to

...sustain the positive impacts of preservation on the ground and expand the network of historic property redevelopers.  HPRP  will explore the common ground shared by the broad community of preservation organizations, revolving fund managers, nonprofit community developers, city and planning officials, and social entrepreneurs working and reinvesting in older and historic properties.

Electric trolley (c.1892)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The transformation of an historic trolley depot in North Philadelphia is a good example of how the HPRP can work.  Tonetta Graham, the executive director of the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corporation was heart broken over the threatened demise of the beloved 110-year old historic Bus Barn in her North Philadelphia neighborhood.  In 2012, the City of Philadelphia wanted to demolish the building to make way for a new transit hub.  If she could, she would've "heart-bombed" the building with "...with hundreds of homemade paper hearts and love letters..."  Instead of doing the stereotypical preservationist thing and chaining herself to the building, Ms. Graham reached out to the local preservation organizations and combined forces.  The result was the two groups were able to successfully advocate for the depot's reuse and inclusion in the new transit scheme.  At present, the Strawberry Mansion CDC uses this collaborative approach to preservation to encourage additional reinvestment in the area properties.

Frankford Depot (1955) with Brill trolley (1923)
Melissa Jest has reason to trumpet this successful collaboration between preservation advocacy and property redevelopment.  Ms. Jest is the manager of the HPRP and vows to work on strengthening and expanding "the network of individuals and organizations involved directly with saving endangered historic properties and provide support as they share and apply effective redevelopment and financing techniques."  Ms. Jest also hopes to engage her colleagues within and without the organization "to develop, identify and share information and best practices in the field of revolving funds and historic property redevelopment."

Community development corporations are excellent and logical partners for preservation organizations and their leaders are just as excited about joining a national network of preservation-minded organizations.  In Ms. Jest's opening months as manager of the program, she has spoken involved with redeveloping historic properties and was inspired by their stories.

Asylum Hill neighborhood
Hartford, Connecticut
Another example of this joining of forces can be found in the Asylum Hill neighborhood in Hartford, Connecticut.  The Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance, Inc is currently at work to remediate blight caused by foreclosures in the area.  Ken Johnson, executive director of NINA said, "his organization stands up for historic properties ignored by the private market.  With preservation, we've found our niche..." However these undertakings require subsidies in order to function and Mr. Johnson added that he would be grateful for a more flexible source of funds like state or local preservation revolving funds.  While NINA is focused on local projects, it would be beneficial to be in touch with what's happening around the United States.

Charles Beiderbecke House
Hamburg Historic District
Davenport, Iowa
One more example in Davenport, Iowa.  Marion McGinnis and her husband Jack Haberman formed the non-profit Gateway Redevelopment Group in 2004.  The McGinnis-Haberman group joined forces with their neighbors to save the abandoned buildings in the Hamburg Historic District.  Ms. McGinnis said, "This is very important and personal for us."  The GRG is currently involved in its third preservation project and expanded its partners and preservation toolkit.  Ms. McGinnis believes that her her organization has a lot to offer the preservation movement.

When the home mortgage crisis first erupted in 2007, many people lost their homes and once thriving communities fell into despair.  Houses were vacated due foreclosures and blight set upon the community.  Initiatives like the Historic Properties Redevelopment Programs make it possible for people to rescue their communities for further blight, rehabilitate, and reuse deteriorating buildings now and in the future.  The HPRP is an excellent example of community advocates and preservationists getting together and managing change.  After all, this is what historic preservation is about.

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The Power of Religious Places


El Santuario de Chimayo
Chimayo, New Mexico
Hello Everyone:

There are places around the world that are revered as sacred.  Whether you are a person of faith. or not, we have to acknowledge that there are special places that have the power to stun us in reverential silence.  One such place is El Santuario de Chimayo in Chimayo, New Mexico.  Tom Mayes, in his latest installment of "Why Do Old Places Matter?  Sacred Places" for the Preservation Leadership Forum, shares his experience of encountering this Catholic pilgrimage site.  Mr. Mayes writes, "On my first visit to the Catholic pilgrimage site Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico, like many people of many faiths (or no faith at all), I was stunned into reverent silence by the palpable sense of sacredness at that old place..."  It that same reverent silence that people experience when they encounter the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Ka'ba at Mecca, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the Grand Shrine at Ise, Japan, and so forth.  For thousands of years, these venerated sites have held deep meaning for many different cultures.  The tradition of making a pilgrimage to these places continues to be meaning experience and a tourist destination.

Mount Taylor, New Mexico
According to Bob Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Places, the word sacred is generally interpreted as "..set apart, separate, different, like a sanctuary."  Mr. Jaeger explains, " these places that are viewed as different, as set apart by the community-and there is something that lifts you up and takes you out of your normal life."  Martin Gray, a photographer for National Geographic and the author of of Sacred Earth, outlines different character defining features of sites that cause people to perceive them as sacred: "visual beauty, geophysical characteristics, building materials, light and color, sound and music, aromatic substances, awareness of centuries of ceremonial activity, collective belief, the power of ceremonial objects or relics."  Specifically, Mr. Gray writes, "I believe that the nature of a person's experience of a sacred site may be influenced by them having Devereux [author of a book titled Sacred Geography] calls a 'multi-mode approach to the sites, that is, by experiencing the sites from the vantage points of both knowing and feeling, both mind and heart." (Gray,  The message is clear, a sacred place is one that lifts out of the realm of the profane (everyday) through engaging all of your senses and lifts to an otherworldly place.

Fuji san (Mount Fuji)
Honshu Island, Japan
Whatever the source of your understanding of sacredness, these places are held in high esteem by individuals within and without a particular faith because of its history, architecture, art, memory, identity, and beauty, and in the broadest sense of sacred.  In studying the definitions of venerated sites from a behavioral, emotional, or place-based context, psychologists Daniel Levi and Sara Kocher wrote,

[s]acred places promote different types of emotional experiences.  Religious tourists experience a 'sense of God's presence' and respect for the spiritual values of the places, while even the nonreligious visitors find sacred sites to be spiritually alive, feel a sense of peace or serenity, and find the place to be awe-inspiring. (Levi and Korcher, 45(7), 912-30, 917: 2012)

Why is this so?  Essentially, old places that are considered sacred are treasured because they provide people with "restorative benefits that foster meditation an reflection and...a sense of peace and serenity." (Levi and Kocher citing Herzog, Rolens, & Koenigs, 42: 395-419, 2010)  This character defining feature provides the benefits of old place and the psychological and sociological benefits as well.

Shockoe Bottom
Richmond, Virginia
A place does not have to be specifically religious to be considered sacred.  A place can be thought of as sacred because of its history, the difficult past it may represent, because it serves as a memorial or a site of conscience-which set it apart from its surrounding.  Think the World Trade Center site, Gettysburg, and the slave trade forts of West Africa, all of whom have been sanctified because of the loss of human life and freedom that occurred there.  The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience encourages these places to make full use of their unique sense of sacredness as a starting point for discussions on contemporary issues.  Shockoe Bottom, recently listed by the National Trust as one of its 11 Endangered Sites, is now revered for its newly uncovered role in the American slave trade.  The title National Heritage Area referred to in Journey through Hallowed Ground, brings to mind the sanctity of a region deemed hallowed by American Revolutionary patriots and the reunification of the United States following the Civil War.  They recall the unique power of old places as sites of memory and provide a forum for re-evaluating history and spurring activism to create a better future.

Interior of Touro Synagogue (1762)
Newport, Rhode Island
Partners for Sacred Places, encourages houses of worship of all faiths to recognize the value of their historic houses of worship at the congregational and communal level, including recognition of these buildings as assets for: the arts, food and nutrition, and a host of other community programs.  While historic and architecturally important buildings are treated as sacred, or not, by its members, Tom Mayes cites the work of Partners in "...reminding us that in addition to providing the city or town where they are located a sense of history, identity, and continuity, they also serve in other ways.  As beautiful and architecturally distinctive places, they are often primary tourist destinations..."  Religious sites, such as the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, have a broader beneficial effect on their communities and the ability to inspire and "lift people out of their lives."  This alone makes them fit into the larger understanding, as illustrated by Bob Jaeger, of the sacred as a place set aside for and by the community.

The Golden Gate Bridge at night
San Francisco, California
Thus far, most of the places I've mentioned are recognized as specifically sacred by individuals. However, as individuals, we all have a personal sacred site.  Landscape architect Loretta Gargan, who spoke to Mr. Mayes for this article, considers the view from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands as sacred because it reminds her of family members she loved and lost. (Interview with Tom Mayes, June 11, 2014).  I suppose if I were to name my personal sacred site, it would have to be the California shoreline.  Looking out onto the vast Pacific Ocean, you get a sense of awe when think about how that body of water can sustain life and at the same time, take it away.

The Buddhas of Bamiyan
There are also places that are held in high regard because of their age.  This probably why people are interested in the are of a building.  There is something the old age of building that instills a sense of veneration.  This manner of respect resonates with people of all or no faith.  When old places are considered sacred, this sense of sacredness can be diminished through destruction or inappropriate development.  It is that sense of sacredness that makes them a target for groups who disapprove of the faith they represent-the Buddhas of Bamiyan come to mind.  In the immediate present tense, a site, such as Jerusalem, can be held sacred by three different faiths, unfortunately leading to religious extremism that result in destruction and tragedy.

Even the popularity of a sacred place can diminished its sanctity.  In a study conducted by Daniel Levi and Sara Kocher on perceived authenticity of sacred sites, the psychologists concluded that while a site "...perceived as containing historic architecture that was well preserved or maintained increased feeling of sacredness," (Levi and Kocher, 923), a site that was considered inauthentic when it had "modern and nonreligious features, such as new buildings, sports places, housing, administration buildings, and modern technology." (Ibid)  Mr. Levi and Ms. Kocher as well as other writers highlight frequent negative factors including "the presence of too many tourists and tourist-related commercial activities, and maintenance issues that showed signs of disrepair or created noise and other disruptions." (925)  I can imagine the former death and concentration camps in Europe suffering from this phenomena as well: too many tourists, maintenance issues, encroaching technology, et cetera.

Ramah Presbyterian Church and Cemetery
Huntersville, North Carolina

Despite the great love people show for sacred sites, we preservationists tend to keep a respectful distance when discussing the sanctity of a place.  Much of what happens in historic preservation takes place at the administrative level thus in accordance with the United States Constitutional amendment regarding due process and establishment clause requirements, must apply objective criteria in deciding if a place considered sacred meets the standards set by the National Register of Historic Places.  At the federal level, most places that are considered sacred are designated under the criteria for "traditional cultural properties" which allows consideration of sacredness from a historic context.  In upholding the designation of Mount Taylor as TCP, the New Mexico Supreme Court wrote, "Although these findings undoubtedly include a religious component, because religion is part of culture and history, the findings are nonetheless based on historical evidence." (Rayellen Resources, Inc v. New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee, slip op. 17 9NM Sup. Ct. Feb 6, 2014)

We are comfortable with the acknowledging that certain communities, specifically Native American, assign sacredness to places yet when considering said places for designation as historic monuments, we become uncomfortable about directly talking about a sacred place or regarding a place as sacred. However, at the base of an objective determination of historic are deeply-held beliefs about a place that resonate within the community.  For example, the following is a description of Mount Taylor's determination of eligibility for the National Register:

The Acoma refer to Mount Taylor as Kaweshtima, which means "a place of snow."  The mountain is central to the Pueblo's belief system, and is a place where religious practitioners as well as the community as whole have historically gone, and are known to go today, to perform ceremonial activities in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are important in maintaining the identity and cultural continuity of the community.  The Acoma view the mountain as a living, breathing entity that encompasses all physical attributes such as the plants, animals, stone, minerals and water, as well as air, clouds and rain, which are all believed to embody spiritual elements. (Benedict, Buttery, and Hudson, "Mount Taylor Traditional Cultural Property Determination for the National Register of Historic Places, 17)

Acoma Pueblo
Cibola County, New Mexico
Former tribal historic preservation office of Acoma, Theresa Pasqual says,

In the United States, we're uncomfortable talking about particular beliefs.  Yet to have a full and rich understanding of the sacredness of place, we have to look at the core values of the people.  Our language does not have a word for 'ownership.'  We don't have a word for 'preservation.'  We have a word for 'stewardship.'  We have a word for 'sacred.'  Perhaps for preservation to be all inclusive we need to talk about the sacred.  It's the transmission of knowledge that is important-the stories, the songs.  These give us a sense of who we are as a people and give us the understanding of sacred places in the landscape.  Those values are things that binds us together.  We have to over our uncomfortable-ness of talking about those core values or we won't have the rich understanding of places.  (Interview with Tom Mayes, telephone, June 26, 2014)

Sarnath Tibetan Community Temple
Uttar Pradesh, India
Preservationists tend to be more comfortable dealing with old places as nothing more than material objects or singular buildings instead of spiritual places.  Mr. Mayes shares his thoughts on an articles he recently came across in The Getty about Sarnath Tibetan Community Temple in India, a site holy to Buddhists.  Sarnath is also an archeological site and remains a pilgrimage site.  According to Mr. Mayes, "...the article highlighted the challenges of honoring its history as a holy pilgrimage site, while maximizing its value as a historic archeological site."  People continue to place candles and apply sheets of gold leaf onto the stupa and architectural remains, despite signs to the contrary.  They are gestures of respect not vandalism, however they do pose a concern for the long term preservation of the remains. (Cumo, "Holy Site, Historic Site, The Challenge of Sarnath, Spring 2014)  The article emphasizes the fact that while it's important to protect the site from damage, preservationist need to tread carefully the line between the instinct to prevent continued use and that use that gives people a reason to continuously value them which gives the place its power.

It's very clear why government agencies must apply and objective criteria for what can be designated as historic.  For everyone else, the discomfort we feel in talking about the sacredness of an old place limits us from potentially understanding the power of a place.  Perhaps we should giver ourselves permission to talk about the old places that we care about and consider sacred in its unique way.  These places gives a sense of solace and move us in a deeply spiritual and psychological manner.  This what enhances our present and future.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's A Political Movement

Houston Astrodome
Houston, Texas
Hello Everyone:

Today in the final in our discussion on historic preservation in the twenty-first century, we're going to take up the subject of preservation as a political movement.  When most people think of a political movement, what typically comes to mind are political parties, campaigns, men and women promising the moon and the stars in exchange for your vote.  In his final post for the Preservation Leadership Forum, David J. Brown, executive vice president and chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, writes that preservation-related issues often become springboards for political movements.  A good example of this is the referendum to save and rehabilitate the Houston Astrodome.

Aerial view Houston Astrodome
Houston, Texas
In November 2013, voters in Houston, Texas narrowly defeated a ballot measure to save and rehabilitate the venerable Astrodome.  One local newspaper felt quite confident in declaring that the voters rejected nostalgia.  Nostalgia? Hardly. The sports stadium is a modernist icon and symbolic of the spirit of the Lone Star state-big vision, brashness, can-do attitude-the Texas with a bright shiny future.  Hardly a definition of nostalgia.  Yet, all too often, preservationists have allowed themselves to be boxed into a position by those wanting to return to the "good old days" because they cannot deal with reality of the present.  This is not what preservation is about.  Nostalgia is useful for conjuring up memories of a place, which is good for preservation.  The problem begins with the language used to describe preservation.  At its core, preservation is a political movement.  We're like those who stand for election, minus the moon and the stars promises.  We have to convince people to join together, if we want to be successful.  Yet, few people understand the actual nature of the field because the lingo looks back and is often focused on architecture.

Third Church of Christian Scientist
Washington D.C. Araldo Cossutta
photograph by Matthew Bisanz
David Alpert's planning blog Greater, Greater Washington, drives home the point about the difficulty in the terminology, particularly in his post on the difficulties surrounding the Brutalist-style Third Church of Christian Science.  Mr. Alpert writes,

If there's ever an example of winning the battle and lose the war, (Alpert wrote) this church fight is it...I admire the strict preservationists' fortitude in standing up for what they believe but preservationists need to realize an important fact: preservation is a political movement.

For all the talk about how preservation retains even buildings that are unpopular (since tastes change), preservation got started saving buildings that were popular.  Masses rose up unsuccessfully to save the old Penn Station, still New York City's most deeply-felt loss.  Our historic preservation laws come from the political forces of many citizens dismayed at the changes happening around them.

Since then, the political climate has changed.  If I were a leader in the historic preservation, I'd be very worried that the movement is heading...toward irrelevance in pursuit of ideological purity.

I often find it interesting to talk to lay people "interested in preservation."  The conversation is usually based on fond remembrances of things past.  However, you can't keep buildings and places metaphorically encased in amber.  That's not how this works.  Buildings and places change, materials deteriorate, the function changes, and so forth.  There has to be some strategy in place to manage the change.  In listening to homeowners complain about the draconian edicts issued by their neighborhood Historic Preservation Overlay Zones, what becomes apparent is how absolutist these HPOZs can be.  They seem to want to freeze a particular community in time, refusing to allow for any changes or compromise.  This, I believe, is due in part to how much the language and ideology of preservation is based in the past.

Save Penn Station protests
The success of political movement is founded on issues where undecided people can agree with their position.  They succeed when they work diligently to educate the general public about why, a train station for example, is important from an architectural, sustainability, small "c" conservative perspective.  We should show more respect for all places and not just assume that everything will be rebuilt every thirty or so years.  While the bulk of preservation work is couched in the future, the language others use to describe the work, and the terminology preservationists use, helps make the case for the critics.  At present, preservation is frequently defined on its most traditional and regulatory characteristics.  We're the "NO Police," as in NO development, no building, no everything. That sounds awful doesn't it?  Nevertheless, like any parent or teacher, we sometimes have to say "no you can't" but "no"should not be the first thing that comes flying out of a preservationist's mouth.

The ruins of Tintern Abbey
Monmouthshire, Wales
Preservationists are not in the business to stop change or keep things as is, our job is to manage change, imagine a future instead of accepting what we have if we left things alone.  The truth is preservation is at the very foundation of American community renewal initiatives over the last thirty years.  We aren't exactly your stereotypical tea sipping, blue haired ladies with big hats, at least yours truly doesn't fit this description.  Be that as it may, preservation as nostalgia often gets relegated to something that's "nice-to-do" but not "critical-to-do."  Then there's preservation as NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard).  This takes the position of preservation as obstructionism, something to be avoided.  Thankfully, the profession has a new generation of people who take a more holistic approach to the field.

These more holistic minded professionals are making the case for preservation using more forward-thinking proactive language.  One such person is Tom Mayes whose series of blog posts on "Why Old Places Matter" centered on the language we to describe why we should care about a place.  Old places provide a sense of continuity and identity that helps people find a sense of balance, stability, and health.  This is an important task.  Thus preservation as a political movement should compel others to believe that saving older and historic buildings should be a priority.  Preservationists must demonstrate that a livable city i.e. the thriving and alive city, is diverse.  Wholesale demolition and construction destroys that connection which makes a place unique and desirable.

Older, Smaller, Better:
Measuring how the character of buildings and blocks influence urban vitality

 In May of this year, a new National Trust study, Older, Smaller, Better:
Measuring how the character of buildings and blocks influence urban vitality began to make the case preservation's crucial role in economic vitality and dynamic human activity.  The Preservation Green Lab concluded that neighborhoods composed of a range of older and newer buildings support the local economies with a high percentage of new businesses as well as women- an minority-owned businesses.  

The study also demonstrated that young people (i.e. millennials) love older buildings.  Neighborhoods with a broad range of building age had a more vibrant night life.  For example, at 10:00p.m. on Fridays, cellphone activity spiked in neighborhoods where there are a mixed-age of buildings than in neighborhoods with just new buildings.  What this tells us is that preservationists need to move away from exclusively focusing on buildings without the context of the stories of the people that reside within.  In the twenty-first century people desire experiences, community, and opportunity.  They will move into, invest in, and take care of a place that provides these needs.

Historic buildings and communities are in a unique position to provide a sense of identity and creative outlets.  Nevertheless, the profession of historic preservation needs a new vocabulary that reflect this impact because, quite honestly "historic" and "preservation" sound like something that should be mummified instead of something more forward-minded.  This is especially true if preservation is to be an essential element in the future of our towns and cities.  Everyone in the preservation has to be involved in creating the case for maintaining older and historic buildings as places for new opportunities and experiences that are the foundation of sustainability and the success of our communities.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's About People

Historic one-room school house in Montana
Hello Everyone:

In yesterday's post we talked about change and preservation.  Change is a constant and how you manage change is what historic preservation is about. National Trust for Historic Preservation chief preservation officer and executive vice president David J. Brown emphasized the point that preservationists must embrace change and let go of the one-size-fits-all approach if they are to make the field relevant in the millennium.  Change is a constant, how preservationists adapt to change is the challenge.

Today we're going to continue our look at historic preservation in the twenty-first century by looking at people.  Not specific people per say but how preservation can be more meaningful for people.  Without people, there wouldn't be historic preservation.  Buildings don't save and transform themselves, somebody has to call attention that a nineteenth century school house in the State of Montana is deteriorating and needs help.  As I said yesterday, people don't attach meaning to just the bricks and mortar, they attach meaning to the stories and memories that reside in the brick and mortar.  Americas do actually care about the loss of a place they love.  However, many of my fellow citizens do not equate the work preservationists do with the places that hold those beloved memories and provide a sense of continuity.  Many Americans still see the profession only in relation to buildings, not in terms of how what we do gives resonance for the presence and hope for the future.

Winterburg Congregation Japanese Presbyterian Mission
Huntington Beach, California

When American poet Peter Streckfus ( was asked to consider why old places matters, he responded, "I'm not sure old places matter.  People matter. The question is how do we honor ourselves when we honor old places?"  This is an excellent response because old places are part of who we are as a culture.  Sure, you can demolish a place and build anew but you cannot replaces the significance that building has to the people who made use of that place.  Too often, in the rush to save a place from a date with the wrecking ball, preservationists forget incorporate people into their presentations.  Mr. Brown observes that he has sat through countless presentations that just show the building, occasionally showing how people use the building.  It's like actual users don't exist. However, if preservation is to move forward in the twenty-first century, the focus has to
Interior of the Houston Astrodome
Houston, Texas
include people.

One perfect example was the campaign to save the Houston Astrodome.  The Astrodome, dubbed the "eighth wonder of the world," is still in danger of demolition in order to make way for new development on the site.  Local preservationists, together with the National Trust, mounted a campaign to get a ballot initiative passed that would authorize funds for its rehabilitation.  Astrodome supporters emphasized the role of memory during their drive, inviting Houstonians to share their stories. Although the measure did not pass, preservationists and community members did a great job in placing the emphasis on people not the building.  Thus underscoring the point that it's not about bricks and mortar, it's about the stories and memories.

Vicksburg National Military Park
Vicksburg, Mississippi
David Brown declares, "Once again, those who are pushing our movement forward are considering how preservation would be different if we focused on people."  Here's a thought what if preservation-minded individuals expanded their surveys to include places people love?  When deciding the fate of a place, historic and planning commissions should consider how their decisions will affect the people in their communities.  Mr. Brown asks preservationists to challenge themselves and the movement to think differently and be more amenable to inviting more people into historic sites.  After all, buildings are meant to be used.

This reminds me of the time I went to visit Taliesen West, Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio in Scottsdale, Arizona.  During the tour, my fellow visitors were very careful about not touching any of the furniture.  The tour guide looked around at her charges and told them that the architect and his students would routinely put their feet up on the tables.  That sort relaxed everyone.  The point here is that our historic sites, regardless of where they are, were once places that people actually used.  When they were first opened, historic sites weren't museum pieces, they were places where people came to shop, eat, work, go to school, and so forth.  Taliesen West is a working studio and school, not a museum dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright.

Tennessee Williams house
Columbus, Mississippi
David Brown suggests that if we changed the focus of preservation to people, it would make preservationists more serious about relevance.  It would force the members of the profession to be more rigorous about saving places that people really care about.  Citing urban historian Delores Hayden, "Restoring significant shared meanings for many neglected urban places first involves claiming the entire urban cultural landscape as an important part of American history, not just its architectural monuments."  In the majority of places deemed preservation-worthy, the phrase "period of significance" gets frequently thrown about.  However, at the National Trust, Mr. Brown states, the phrases is being turned upside down and the question becomes, "What if the period of significance is now?"  I would add the question, why should we care about this building or site?

President Lincoln's Cottage
Washington D.C.
One example of the "period of significance is now" is President Lincoln's Cottage.  Listed in 2000 as an Endangered Historic Site, the Cottage was the location where the sixteenth president conceived the Emancipation Proclamation, understanding the period of significance is now serves as a springboard for modern day human trafficking and the sad realization that slavery did not end in 1865.

If people are the center of preservation, we need to take into consideration how our interventions will affect people in the present and future tense.  We are a world of consumers, i.e. we are consuming our resources in an alarming manner.  The National Trust's Preservation Green Lab is making use of peer-reviewed literature to prove how older historic buildings can be used to make our cities and towns more environmentally sustainable.  As more knowledge is accumulated, it will absolutely important for preservationists to understand the science behind it and become advocates at the local, state, federal levels on behalf of older historic buildings. This makes the work relevant, people oriented, and critical to our future.

The Spring House
Frank Lloyd Wright
Tallahassee, Florida
In his great series "Why Old Places Matter," Tom Mayes talked about the work of environmental psychologist.  These individuals are helping preservationists understand that old places provide people with a sense of continuity, necessary for good psychological and emotional health.  Mr. Brown wants preservationist to challenge themselves in their historic sites, regulatory reviews, and sustainability initiatives to put people first.  Most of all, the preservation professionals must challenge themselves to all about people.

At way too many places i.e. historic sites, the districts we choose to designate, and in our writing, the stories presented often forget the people whose lives were intertwined with places, layering histories on top of each other.  At present, preservationists are beginning to take pre-emptive measures and work collaboratively with diverse communities.  This means working with marginalized communities not against them in retaining their social and spatial communal structures.  Preservation is not just about the buildings, it's about many things, chief of which the people.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Change and Preservation

Palladium Building
St. Louis, Missouri
Hello Everyone:

Today I'd like to begin a series of posts on historic preservation in the twenty-first century. David J. Brown, the executive vice president and chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, recently published three articles on the future preservation and how it adjusts itself to change, stay relevant, and win support for the cause. The inspiration for these articles is the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (1966) and the hundredth anniversary of the National Parks Act (1916).  Over the next three days, we'll be talking about preservation and change; preservation and people and preservation and politics.  For today, we're going to talk about historic preservation and change.  Specifically, how does preservation adapt to a world in constant flux.

San Jose Church
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA
When I started studying preservation, the first class I was required to take was "Fundamentals of Historic Preservation," taught by the ever knowledgeable Jay Platt.  On the first night of class, he asked all of us to define historic preservation.  Of course we all tried to come up with the most erudite answer.  Jay, who later became my extremely patient thesis advisor, listened carefully, acknowledging are attempts at cleverness before finally revealing the answer, "historic preservation is about managing change."  Blew me away, so simple an answer, yet fraught with meaning.  This was emphasized a year later by the energetic David Sloane, professor of planning and development history who drove home the point that change is constant.  Cities change, buildings change, demographics change, places change.  Change is a constant.  Borrowing a quote from Mr. Brown's article, he cites Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Paul Goldberger,

'[p]erhaps the most important thing to say about preservation when it is really working as it should is that it uses the past to make us nostalgic, but to make us feel that we live in a better present, a present that has a broad reach and a great, sweep arc, and that is not narrowly defined, but broadly defined by its connections to other eras, and its ability to embrace them in a larger, cumulative whole.  Successful preservation makes time a continuum, not a series of disjointed, disconnected eras."

TWA Worldport Terminal
John F. Kennedy Airport, New York
Continuity and change, two important points we need to embrace in the millennium.  Fortunately, preservation is a highly versatile field.  While the National Trust and many of its partners own properties that focus on the bold faced architecture and museum, the focus of what can be considered preservation-worthy has shifted over the years to more local preservation-centric activities.  In November 2013, the New York Times published the story of two twenty-something Buffalo, New York residents, praising them for their skills as micro-developers, "rehabbing derelict properties to rent (or sell) an attempt to save houses from demolition..." (  One of the micro-developers, Bernice Radle presented a TEDtalk at the annual TEDxBuffalo in October 2013, holding a sign that read "Preservation is Sexy." (  Preservation is a pretty sexy, it in a nerd hotness sort-of way.  This was Ms. Radle's way of explaining the"preservation as social activism" engine that drive her and her colleagues.

Protestor in Taksim Square Gezi Park
Istanbul, Turkey
Preservation as a form of social activism is already happening in the twenty-first century, albeit in a large-scale.  The wave of demonstrations and civil unrest Istanbul, Turkey were initiated over proposed urban development in Taksim Square Gezi Park.  However, I can safely say that the overwhelming bulk preservation as social activism movements do not end in mass arrests, tear gas, and causalities.  If anything, preservation in the millennium is definitely not one-size-fits-all.  It's not a one-size-fits-all thing when you factor in Main Street revitalization programs, heritage tourism, social justice, urban landscapes as public history, return to the city, historic site reinvention, and the focus on economic and environmental sustainability, they all become relevant to the work preservationists do.

Historic Textile Mill
Lowell, Massachusetts
The New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp, once said,

A building does not have to be an important work of architecture to become a first-rte landmark.  Landmarks are not created by architects.  They are fashioned by those who encounter them after they are built.  The essential feature of a landmark is not its design, but the place it holds in a city's memory.

This is true whether it's a textile mill, a log cabin, or a grand space.  Places change as they become invested with meaning, memories, and stories.  People don't attach any particular significance to bricks and mortar, they attach significance to the stories that reside within those bricks and mortar.  Filtering landmark building through the architectural historian's prism, not by the character-defining features and without any empirical knowledge,  narrows the scope of understanding of what makes older and historic buildings so unique. In the book Bedside Essays for Lovers (of Cities) (, Danile Solomon observes what the sustainable city must maintain, " the culture of the culture of the city: the way people in New Orleans, the way they dress in Milan, dance in Havana, speak in London, wise-crack in New York, and look cool in Tokyo."  In short, part of  what  historic preservation is about the intangible elements that make a place unique.

Johnny Cash's Boyhood Home and Museum
Dyess, Arkansas
If we are absolutely intent on achieving the greater goal of livable and sustainable communities for everyone, we need to embrace change in a big way.  This is something that preservationists have been doing for years, by using tools such as adaptive (re)use which breath new life into buildings in ways not previously imagined.  However, preservationists also need to embrace the changes in our tool kit.  For example, David Brown points out that the Secretary of Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation are intended to be guidelines not something "...that applies equally to all of tax credit projects and hundreds if not thousands of historic district zoning ordinances."

At the local level, preservationists are beginning to realize that different situations call for different tools.  For example, the National Trust's Preservation Green Lab aided the City of Seattle pass America's first outcome-based energy code.  The outcome-based energy code includes a Performance Target strategy for new buildings and an Operating Energy Alternative for existing buildings, each allowing flexibility for property owners and designers to pursue innovative retrofit approaches that will provide the highest return on investment. (

Arcadia Farm Fall Fest 2013
Alexandria, VA

The National Trust and its allied organizations are leading the charge to move beyond the ubiquitous house museum as the best choice for historic buildings and sites.  In a growing partnership with the non-profit farm-to-table organization, Arcadia, the National Trust is looking to go beyond the tried and true house museum by formulating a new use for its historic site Woodlawn.  In a bit of shameless self-promotion, David Brown announces, "We are opening the doors to broader public participation and setting up a 21st-century use that relates to the site's 19th-century roots as a place for experimental agriculture."  Sometimes you have to step back into the past in order to go forward into the future.

The National Trust President Stephanie Meeks has argued that we "Stop debating whether house museums are a flawed model, and instead channel that energy into the original impulse: the desire to preserve the houses where our history was made.  To preserve these properties-to sustain their place in history and advance their meaning-we need to think anew, and act accordingly."  Here, here.  The house museum is not always the right answer.  Right now, preservationists have a wonderful opportunity to make the field a relevant part of the ever changing future of our communities.  In order to do so, preservationist must embrace change, borrowing Mr. Brown's use of the eminent Mark Twain quote about telling the truth, "It will amaze your friends and confound your enemies."

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Older, Smaller, Always Better

Blight in Cleveland
Cleveland, Ohio
Hello Everyone:

Once again it's time to clean out the drop box folder and post about articles that have been sitting around for a time.  Today's post is based on an article on the website, titled, "How To Kill Your Neighborhood."  It's not as homicidal as you think it is.  The story is about ways to decimate the unique character, meaning historic, of a neighborhood or city center by razing the smaller mix and maybe match smaller buildings with a uniform block of boring bland steel and glass boxes.  This was the conclusion that the report Older, Smaller, Better Measuring how the character of buildings and blocks influences urban vitality, undertaken by the National Trust for Historic Preservation Green Lab ( together with the The Kresge Foundation.  The 115-page study is an interesting look at the vital role older smaller buildings play in the development of sustainable cities.

Pike/Pine Corridor
Seattle, Washington
Older, Smaller, Better

The Older, Smaller, Better study analyzed all the existing structures in Washington D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco.  The research team use maps and spatial statistics design to the hypothesis "that older building age, greater diversity of building age, and smaller-sized buildings are associated with greater social, cultural, and economic vitality." (Older, Smaller, Better, 19, 2014)  The study looked at the relationship between the built fabric in the above listed cities and forty key measures of urban vitality  The research objectives were two-fold:
1) Assess the contributions of older smaller buildings to economic, social, and cultural vitality;
2) Create a methodology for measure the performance of older smaller buildings that can be used to inform plans, policies, and sustainability metrics in communities nationwide. (Ibid)

Chinatown International District
Seattle, Washington
Each of the cities was divided into a 200-meter square grid, in order to create like comparisons with other with other cities.  The maps created for the study are actually quite fascinating to look at and most definitely worth of your time and attention.  While the draws a number of conclusions, here are three notable findings:

1. Young People Love Old Buildings

Old buildings are great but getting young people engaged in saving them can be a challenge. Thus, the conclusion that young people love older buildings was very surprising.  This pronouncement is based on the observation that "the median age of residents age of residents in areas with a mix of small, old and new buildings is lower than in areas with larger, predominantly new buildings."  In short, the much hallowed millennial generation prefer to live in older communities mainly for their affordability or access to amenities.  Therefore, while historic neighbor do appeal to that key demographic, the real attraction lies in the externalities of the places rather the internal characteristics.

H Street Corridor Fest
Washington D.C.

2. Older, Smaller Buildings Provide for a Strong Local Economy

The point here is that in communities with number of historic buildings are also an epicenter for small businesses.  These areas, "have a significantly higher proportion of non-chain restaurants and a significantly higher proportion of jobs in small businesses."  This should not come as any surprise because if you spend time in your town square, the chances are you won't find a national retailer or chain restaurant.  On caveat, this is based on intuitive data, you need the physical data to back up this observation.  Policymakers, not only the study cities but everywhere else, need to give this finding some real attention if they want to retain and grow their commercial tax base.  There are 23 million small businesses in America that provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of new jobs since the seventies.  Perhaps it's finally time for Congress to take its collective thumbs out of their mouths and make it easier to invest in smaller older buildings by saving the Federal Historic Tax Credit programs.  Therefore, rather than caving into some big-box retailer and letting them build another enormous warehouse on the edge of town, how about offering neighborhood revitalization incentives.  Small businesses are attracted to historic buildings for a number of reason, chief of which they keep more investment in the community.

Rendering of Mid-Market Revitalization
San Francisco, California

3. Older Commercial and Mixed-Used Districts Contain Hidden Density

"Hidden density."  Sounds like something Indiana Jones might uncover in some remote exotic location.  Really, instead of our whip-cracking hero battling evil developers and civic officials, the study revealed that buildings in historic neighborhoods are used in a more efficient manner than large new buildings.  Specifically, historic districts "have greater population density and more businesses per commercial square foot."  More important, historic areas "also have significantly more jobs per square per commercial square foot."  This emphasizes the previous point that investing in historic buildings is a better investment opportunity than new construction.  Yet one more reason to save the Federal Historic Tax Credit program.

In short Don't Kill Your Neighborhood, please.  Unfortunately, many municipalities have killed their neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal.  Usually, it's too late to undo the damage.  Smaller, older buildings are more than just a quaint feature of a downtown, they often serve as the nucleus of a city's economy.  Older and smaller is definitely better.

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