Philly Forum 2014

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This week Philadelphia welcomes Forum 2014: A Keystone Connection, the Statewide Conference on Heritage / Byways to the Past. The 2014 conference is a partnership between the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions, Preservation Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Transportation, historic preservation, history, technology – this conference looks like it’s going to be great. Tickets sold out! Will you be there? I’ll be presenting on Thursday July 17 as part of the session, Crossing into History: Compatible Bridge Design in Historic Districts. Here’s the panel summary and speakers:

Bridges are not always mere conduits for transportation, but can play important roles in shaping, or affecting, the identity of a place.  While some bridges are small and unnoticeable, others are visual representations of a particular period in time and important elements of historic settings.  What happens when a bridge in an historic setting cannot be rehabilitated?   How do you design a new bridge that is compatible with the setting but does not end up looking historicized?  Is it better to design a bridge that is modern and does not attempt to imitate history or is it possible to develop compatible new designs that reflect their setting.  This session will explore these issues and offer insight into appropriate context sensitive design.

Moderator:

  • Monica Harrower, Cultural Resources Professional, PennDOT District 6-0

Speakers:

  • Michael Cuddy, Principal, TranSystems
  • Mary McCahon, Senior Historian, TranSystems
  • Barbara Shaffer, Planning and Environmental Specialist, Federal Highway Administration
  • Dain Gattin, Chief Engineer, Philadelphia Streets Department
  • Emanuel Kelly, FAIA, Philadelphia Art Commission
  • Kaitlin O’Shea, Historic Preservation Specialist, Vermont Agency of Transportation


Join us to learn about historic bridges, replacement projects, and historic districts!

Changing my Transit Ways

Happy Spring, all. If Spring has arrived in Vermont, it must have found you by now. I hope! A quick question for your Monday morning: what is your preferred mode of travel in the good weather? I’ve been calling these days the happy weather in Vermont. It’s warm, beautiful, people are out and about, everyone’s mood has lifted.

And after a refreshing weekend of barely any need for a car, I’m attempting to scale down my daily vehicle use and rely on the bus, if possible for work, and my feet and bicycle for in town trips. It’s not entirely possible or easy, but perhaps a good (affordable, healthy) challenge for the next five or six months.

Have you altered your transit? How and for what reasons? Financial? Environmental? Efficiency?

Pink dogwoods for spring.

Pink dogwoods for spring.

Preservation Photos #231

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Reflections in Providence, Rhode Island.

Preservation is Good for Your Health

Mark Fenton, the keynote speaker for the Rhode Island Preservation Conference delivered one of the best talks I’ve heard. He linked public health and historic preservation, in a way that makes the connection seem so obvious. Read on to learn more from Mark’s conference talk.

Preservation is good for your health, plain and simple. Preservation improves quality of life, which likely includes health. Many of us know this, but have we thought about it enough to put it into words?

How is preservation good for you? Historic towns and cities were built for human scale, often prior to our auto-centric designs. This means that buildings are closer together, the streets are not filled with vast parking lots and strip-mall style setbacks. Streetscapes include sidewalks, street furniture, mature shade trees. Cars are not what connected people. Instead, people walked or rode public transit.

The problem with our auto-centric suburbs? Our transportation design and development patterns do not encourage walking (i.e. exercise). Every task requires a car. Bike paths don’t necessarily link neighborhoods to a downtown core. The destinations need to be functional, with the trailheads at our front doors.

The solution? Better design that allows passive exercise for all ages. Meaning that people are encouraged and able to walk for errands. Not every task requires a car. Networks are safe and user friendly. How? Vocal concerned citizens need to speak up and alert their elected officials that design matters. Their town doesn’t have to settle for the typical corporate big-box chain look. Schools should be built in towns, rather than off in the middle-of-nowhere. Zoning needs to change.

We need to stop building a world conducive to inactivity, and recognize that our historic development patterns made more sense. Telling people to exercise is not going to work. It’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Instead, we need to change how we design, how we build.

Transportation design, building design, and community planning must be improved. Step up to the plate and negotiate. Make your community healthy and believe that your community deserves the absolute best, not the run-of-the-mill design.

Need smaller steps in your community? Add benches. Add shade trees. Buy a bike rack. Be an active role model. If you can, try walking for just one errand. Businesses are looking to locate in healthy communities.

Doesn’t it make perfect sense? Of course historic preservation is good for you. And that is another tool in our preservation toolbox.

Want to hear the entire talk? Watch it here – begin at 23 minutes for Mark.

Providence, RI. A healthy city block.

Providence, RI. A healthy city block.

Preservation Photos #229

The lenticular truss bridge in Highgate Falls, VT.

The lenticular truss bridge in Highgate Falls, VT.

This two-span wrought iron lenticular truss bridge was constructed in 1887 by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company in Highgate Center. It currently serves pedestrians. A bit about lenticular truss bridges (and other metal truss bridges here):

Lenticular trusses consist of both upper and lower curved chords, giving the bridge the shape of a lens (hence the name lenticular). This bridge type gained popularity during the early 1880s, and a number were constructed in Vermont. 

Freeways to Boulevards and Parks: A Brief Introduction

Transportation tells the story of our culture: how we travel, in what style, what mode and to where. Depending on the design and form of our routes, it tells our priorities and the purpose of the roads.

Consider parkways of the 1920s-1940s: scenic, winding, stone bridges and underpasses, grassy medians, low speed limits. These roads were constructed for an enjoyable ride, making the journey part of the destination. Now consider interstates of the 1950s – 1970s or later: wide lane with wide shoulders, limited access, high speeds, blasting through the landscape. These corridors were built for efficiency and speed, getting the traveling public from one place to another.

Why is there such a difference in road construction? Just as our tastes in fashion, design, food, and culture change, so do our theories and methods of planning, construction, and transportation. Theories and methods change to fit our needs and wants, as evident by the evolution of our roadways.

Take note of where major highways are located, and you’ll see that many hug the waterfront of cities. These roads divide the waterfront from the city dwellers, which seem to ignore the potential high-value real estate. Don’t the best cities embrace their waterfront? Why would we ignore that by constructing roads instead of boardwalks, beaches, and parks? There are a few important factors to understand (note these are not all-inclusive).

(1) Until the modern era, the waterfront often represented the industry of a city. Shipping ports were major transportation centers, where goods would come in or leave the city. Waterfronts were for business, not play. Even little Burlington, Vermont had  waterfront filled with railroad lines, oil tanks, the lumber industry, etc. It was much different than today.

(2) Since the waterfront was not a cherished place in cities, especially as industry changed in the United States, building a road along the shorelines seemed to make sense. Transportation was replacing industry, particularly the shipping and rail industry.

(3) Before the interstate were the low speed (relatively speaking) parkways were constructed (think early Robert Moses era), driving was recreation and leisure. A Sunday drive was leisure time to Americans, and driving on a scenic highway adjacent to the the water made for beautiful views and a lovely afternoon.

(4) Interstates often replaced parkways. And interstates caused devastation through cities across the nation. However, building the interstate along the waterfront often was a path of least resistance, as they would transport vehicles around the city at high speeds, avoiding the congestion of inner city loops. .

(5) Recreation and city planning changed. Whether a parkway or an interstate, this pattern of development left the waterfront divided from city dwellers. At the time when these roads were constructed, people were moving out of cities, not living in them. The effects to a city were less noticeable than they might today. When people began living in cities as opposed to living in the suburbs, city dwellers wanted to reclaim the empty waterfronts.

Half a century later and development patterns and planning theories have indeed changed. Today cities across the country are working to remove (yes, remove!) freeways and reclaim the waterfront by turning the roads into boulevards or parks. An article 6 Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever (Gizmodo) is an amazing collection of examples around the world. On the east coast, you might know the Big Dig in Boston. On the west coast, Harbor Drive in Portland, OR is a well-know case study.

6 Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever

Harbor Drive in Portland, Oregon BEFORE freeway removal. Click for source & article.

6 Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever

Harbor Drive AFTER freeway removal. Click for source & article.

And there are many cities with proposals in mind such as Syracuse, New York and Niagara Falls, New York. PreserveNet keeps a website by the Preservation Institute detailing freeway removal projects. These are not minor undertakings. They are an incredible feats, requiring major design shifts. Improving quality of life within cities by giving pleasant open space to all speaks volumes to how we view and use cities today. Gone are the days when people are fleeing cities to the suburbs and need the roads to get in and out of the cities as quickly as possible. Instead, we see the value in these dense, urban environments. Quite the bold revitalization, and an example of what good a dramatic change can accomplish.

What do you think? Anything to add?

 

The Movers & the Shakers

Following up with Where Are the Running Preservationists?: It’s nice to know you fellow running-preservationists are out there! Thanks for speaking up, including those of you on Twitter. Check out the fun responses below.

Bottom line, you’re out there. And we’ll have to meet up at conferences to go running and exploring. However, not everyone is a runner. (Or some of you are, but are hesitant to admit it, see comments). This leads me to ask:

What is your favorite mode of transportation for exploring? Foot? Bicycle? Horse & carriage? Trolley? Car? I’d love to know. John Stilgoe, author of Outside Lies Magic, encourages everyone to walk or bike, because it enables to observe elements of the built and cultural landscape that we’d never see otherwise. Of course, certain modes are more fitting than other, depending on where you are and what you aim to do. When would you bike or drive?

I’d take a bike around a city so I can stop where I please, but still carry water, my bag, camera, and other essentials. Biking was the best way to see Minneapolis. I’d drive in rural areas because I don’t like to bike on roads with narrow shoulders. And there is the appeal of the open road. I’d take a trolley in a big city for the experience. In New York City, one of my favorite modes is the elevated train because you see cornices and rooftops and life from an entirely new perspective. What else. Where are you going next and how will you explore?

Preservation Photos #226

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More on looking up: seen any interesting door frames or entrances lately, such as this one from the historic (and former) Brattleboro, VT train station?