Where Transportation and Historic Preservation Meet: Downtown Streets (Part Two)

Notes from the 2011 Vermont Historic Preservation & Downtown Conference and accompanying thoughts.

Read Part One here.

PART TWO: Session Two, Awards Luncheon, Session Three, Reception.

Session Two

Continuing on the Streets as Places track, session two acted as a continuation of session one. The audience broke into eight groups in order to partake in a modified version of  the “Place Game,” which is a street audit, part of the Project for Public Spaces Placemaking training courses. Participants were given a chart and questionnaire to assist with the street audit. The questionnaire called for simple observations, likes and dislikes – initial reactions and then thought out reactions to the place.  The Place Game chart asked the observer to rate access, linkages, uses, activities, appearances, etc. This was meant to be done after the session one discussion. Some who joined in without hearing the session one discussion interpreted this to be about streetscape only, as opposed to interaction and functionality with streetscape as a result or footnote. Since this street audit was a modified version, the groups had limited time for observing and talking about the findings. Normally, groups will continue with an entire workshop. Read about one such workshop on Planners Web.

Most needed changes to the street (the section that my group was assigned to) seemed overwhelmingly obvious to everyone; though, I imagine in a full workshop, people would be able to dig deeper and draw out potentially great improvements. This shortened method didn’t appear to be the most effective for the site; rather, I imagine it served the purpose of showing participants how to apply the previously discussed concepts. In that measure, it was an enjoyable session.

Awards Luncheon

A leisurely lunch hour-and-a-half allowed conference attendees to mingle, after helping ourselves from the college cafeteria. Despite memories of not-so-great college food, lunch was surprisingly delicious! (And lunch was included in the registration fee — a great deal — keep it in mind for next year’s conference.) During lunch, the annual Green Mountain Awards were presented to winners. Categories included organizational development, community partnerships, best building renovation, public space improvements, special events, general image, best new business, outstanding achievement by a program manager, and volunteer of the year.

Session Three

After lunch, I continued on the Streets as Places session track, since I had attended the first two. This session was titled, “Opportunities and Obstacles for Streets as Places.” The description for this panel discussion was as follows: Reflecting on what was learned and observed in the field exercise and responding to issues raised in the first workshop, the instructors will form a panel to recommend ways to take advantage of opportunities  and to overcome obstacles (such as out-dated parking requirements). Open discussion will follow. Streets as Places will conclude with suggested resources for further learning and ideas for next steps, including ways communities can integrate placemaking into existing planning processes.

However, since open discussion was allowed, some audience participants took the time to make it more of a platform for his/her particular grievances within his/her community. The panelists handled such tangents well, though the specificity of these discussions unfortunately took away from the larger issues, those that could have benefited the entire audience. Of course, that is a risk one must take with any open discussion forum. The positives of this session were the skills of the speakers in responding to the audience and providing helpful feedback. Also, in one instance, in which an audience member was angry with previous interactions with the Department of Transportation and therefore eager to write off the possibility of working together, one of panelists was able to provide many examples of positive collaborative work between public/private organizations and DOT (or AOT in Vermont). Overall, panelists succeeded in revisiting topics from the previous sessions, and their solutions to problems were insightful and worth hearing.

Of the three Streets as Places sessions, session one was my favorite by far. I felt it was the most interesting and helpful in terms of learning these concepts. While two and three were still enjoyable, I think I could have listened to discussions by the speakers all day.

Reception

An afternoon reception was held on the beautiful East Poultney green. Attendees mingled, snacked on delicious Vermont Cabot cheese,  enjoyed refreshments including Vermont Sweetwater, toured the surrounding historic buildings, and (if applicable) hoped to be the one to win the raffle prize. The lovely weather made the indoor/outdoor reception the perfect way to end the day.

Church on East Poultney green.

Overall, the conference seemed to go off without a hitch – a great success in combining the downtown and historic preservation conference. Having the chance to be surrounded by fellow preservationists all day was inspiring, educational and entertaining. Cheers to the organizers and sponsors!

For additional photographs of the church on the East Poultney green (pictured above) read this Preservation in Pink post.

For detailed description of all sessions, read the conference agenda (PDF).