Preservation ABCs: I is for Infill

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

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I is for Infill

Randolph, Vermont. The three story brown building with the white cornice and tallest parapet is new construction, replacing a building block that burned. This building is an infill development.

Infill can refer to replacing a previous building that was demolished or filling a previously empty lot. Whether the building removed was historic or not, whether the lot was occupied or free of structures, when considering new structures in a historic district or adjacent to historic properties, what goes in that lot is just as important as (or sometimes more important than) what was previously there. Infill is about appropriate, complementary architecture. Infill does not have to be nondescript and completely subservient to existing structures, but it should not confuse historic and new development, nor should it detract from the integrity of a historic structure. It can take cues from the existing architecture, in terms of massing, materials, height, street frontage, etc.

Why do historic preservationists care about new structures? Simply stated, new structures have the power to affect the historic integrity of the surrounding historic environment. In the historic preservation field, we talk about existing structures and the seven characteristics that comprise historic integrity. One of those characteristics is setting. Setting illustrates place, its visual elements telling the story of a place. If a building’s surroundings are altered and the result is incompatible with the historic resources, then the integrity of those resources is diminished.

Imagine a strip mall or big box drug store (or chain restaurant, etc) replacing a three story brick building block in town, or being constructed adjacent to one, even just outside a historic district. Generally speaking, this would not be compatible. A downtown building block will have sidewalks and street parking perhaps, whereas a big box drug store most often has a large parking lot and a standard corporate image to its construction.

Appropriate infill allows our environment to be cohesive. It considers each place individually and allows that location to retain its visual integrity, which fosters sense-of-place. A good sense of place improves people’s appreciation of the environment, interaction with surroundings, and the livability of a community.

Abandoned Vermont: Dover Schoolhouse

This one room schoolhouse sits on a dirt road in southern Vermont. It appears to be recently inhabited, though the current broken windows, messy interior and damaged foundation say that no one uses the building currently. However, it is far from gone and certainly worthy of preservation. It is one of the oldest structures in Dover.

The 1790 Little Red Schoolhouse in Dover, VT.

A garage addition.

The front entrance of the schoolhouse.

Above the door,

This 1790 schoolhouse was updated with large windows to meet new school standards, likely in the early decades of the 20th century.

Looking through a broken window you can see the original ceiling and added acoustic tile ceiling, historic light fixtures and a mix of furniture.

Have you seen any other 18th century schoolhouses where you live?

Thanksgiving Flamingo-grams

Hoping everyone had a lovely extended weekend. Count your blessings year round. Here are some of mine from the weekend.

You can follow Preservation in Pink happenings through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr — the sources for photographs and images if it’s not a blog post day. All of these are linked to each other (so the images should be found at each source) can be found on the sidebar of the main blog page. And every so often I’ll round up the images for a Flamingo-grams post on the blog. You’ll notice that not every photograph is directly historic preservation – some includes family, travel, baking, pets, just bits and pieces from my sense of place and environment. If you have links to share, please do.

And Happy 21st Birthday to my youngest sister, Erin!

Small Business Saturday & Look Local

How do you feel about Black Friday shopping? After a few unsuccessful years of attempting to shop and becoming increasingly annoyed with the earlier hours of corporate America, I successfully avoided the insanity this year. Of course there are many ways to avoid the craziest shopping day of the year, even if you still want to shop. Obviously, online shopping is an option. But, consider this: local shopping.

Today is Small Business Saturday, a campaign begun in 2010 by American Express in order to encourage consumers to shop locally, educate people about the benefits of local shopping and to provide resources to small businesses. American Express provides incentives for its customers to follow through with local shopping at qualified local businesses, when using the American Express credit card, of course. Find businesses here. And read FAQ here.

Of course, American Express isn’t the only reason to “shop small” today. The benefits of shopping locally are endless: keeping money in your community, keeping your local economy healthy with jobs and commerce, encouraging new business, creating a vibrant and sustainable place to live, developing relationships with businesses and fellow shoppers, helping to create a sense of place in your town, better customer service, and more. And whether it’s one purchase that you can change or the majority of your purchases, every effort makes a difference.

Not all of us can stroll up and down a main commercial street where we live; need help with shopping locally? Download the iPhone app, Look Local, created by The 3/50 Project. You can search by location for eateries, stores and other services.

Look Local iphone app screenshot.

Look Local app menu

How do you feel about small stores? I’ll confess, sometimes it can feel strange walking into a small boutique or small store and not buying anything. Right? Sometimes you feel pressure to buy something, even if you really just want to look around, even if there is only perceived pressure. Whereas in a big store you can wander around with no one watching you. It takes practice to get over that feeling, if it’s been an issue for you. Think of it this way: if you were a store owner wouldn’t you rather someone come in to take a look rather than not come in at all? That person could be a potential customer, someone who is just browsing that particular day. Small business owners and employees always seem welcoming to people, in my experience, new customers or repeat customers. My advice: don’t worry. Just walk in, browse and take a mental note of what is in the store. If you can, remember the store next time you are shopping and become a customer if it’s a store you enjoy. 

If you care about your local economy, your quality of life, your sense of place and the economic health of your community, do some of your holiday (and everyday) shopping locally. It’ll make you feel good. Trust me. Good luck! And feel free to share any local shopping advice in the comments.

Thankfulness

Though we all have much to be thankful for throughout the year, there is something special and comforting about paying extra attention and dutifully remembering to count our blessings each year about this time. Wouldn’t you agree? For what are you thankful, big or small, person, place, or thing, memory or faith or hope?

Fresh air and pretty views.

I am thankful for optimistic people and communities, for those that believe in themselves each other, for the vibrant main streets that get involved in the holidays and all seasons. Success stories of preservationists and non-preservationists, all working to improve quality of life and sense of place, can all have a positive influence. I am thankful to live in a country and an age when almost anything is possible.

Montpelier, VT: a good place to be.

I am thankful for my family and friends and our collective strength and love, and to be able to see them for the holidays, a rare time of year when we are all together under one roof. I am thankful for our home, good memories, and for our Point Lookout house that survived the storm and will recover. I am thankful for good communities, personal and professional to know and to work with as we all make our way in the world. I am thankful for my health. I am thankful for little things like a good cup of a coffee, a cuddly cat, sunny days, snowy days, sitting by the fireplace, baking for the holidays, my grandmother’s necklace, and frivolous things like pink nail polish (of course).

Cookies for the holidays.

And of course, I am thankful for readers of Preservation in Pink and the growing community around this blog. Thank you everyone. I wish you all the best holiday, safe travels and time to reflect on what is good in your life.

Izzy, my cuddly cat.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love to Long Island

The memories of Tropical Storm Irene of August 2011 are all too familiar here in Vermont, so when the mid Atlantic was struck by Hurricane Sandy, Vermonters knew exactly how people felt. Roads washed out or blocked, infrastructure damaged, homes washed away, entire towns flooded, people stranded, people wondering what to do, communities coming together – yes, we do know how you feel. I remember being more worried about Long Island than Vermont before Tropical Storm Irene, and this time praying that both places would be spared. Fortunately Vermont was spared. Not so fortunately, Long Island and the entire tri-state area was pummeled. Having lived through a flood and worked personally and professionally through the aftermath of the storm’s destruction, I can say it is a long road to recovery. But everything will be okay.

Sadly, this time, my favorite place in the entire world flooded – Point Lookout, NY, about which I’ve written many times. As with many other homes, my family’s home flooded. Though an old house, it is not historic; it’s significance to us derives from family memory and emotional importance rather than characteristics of historic integrity qualifying it for the National Register. Though, to us – to our family history – it might as well be a national landmark. So when you say your house or that place is important to you, significant to you though not historically significant on the local, state or national level, I completely understand what you mean.

And our house will be fine in time, though it’s going to require complete renovation. The silver lining is that we were eventually going to get to that point.

If you or anyone you know was affected by Hurricane Sandy, I share your pain and I lend my support. Historic or not, we can all appreciate that every place matters to someone. Historic preservation isn’t only about historically significant buildings; it is about your community and having pride where you live and being a part of the greater story. Stay strong everyone and lend a hand to those in need.

Preservation ABCs: H is for Highway

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

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H is for Highway

Vermont Route 17: highways come in all landscapes and alignments.

Highways and historic preservation are inherently linked. All roads tell a significant part of history; highways are corridors that have defined, shaped and drastically influenced American life. From trails to dirt roads or corduroy roads, toll roads, turnpikes, parkways, interstates, all are tangible connections as to how people have traversed the landscape, in which directions, how society has adapted with changing technology and expanding settlement patterns.

Suffice to say, there is more to a highway than miles. Starting with the simplest of highway elements: its surface can give clues to the era of its construction. Width, geometry, speed limits, alignment, environs: these elements add greater depth to highway history. In other words, road construction relates to changing technologies and safety standards.

Depending on where you live, the word highway likely conjures an image different to you than it does for someone else. What do you see? Suburban development and strip malls? The wide open fields and skies of the midwest? Winding New England highways through the mountains? The coastal highways along the ocean? Do you imagine two lanes? Four lanes? Something else? When considering historic highways, often what comes to mind are images of Route 66, the Dixie Highway, the Lincoln Highway or the many parkways throughout New York and New Jersey. From there we can imagine the mid-twentieth century roadside America genre, what we typically associate with the autocentric development: hotels, gas stations, suburban development, drive-ins, and a culture that modified itself to fit with the automobile age.

Beyond the era of highway itself, historic or not, it is important to consider the fact that the majority of our highways include historic elements such as bridges and tunnels. And highways pass through and are parts of our historic districts, villages, towns and cities. No matter the age of the road or the town, a roadway project will at some point be planned, one that has the potential to alter the landscape as it has in the past. Highway and eventual interstate construction was one of the catalysts for our federal and state historic preservation laws and the Section 106 and Section 4(f) review processes.

To that effect, this quote is a good one to keep in mind:

“Few creations of man have such widespread effects upon their surroundings as do highways… Taken as a whole, these side effects change the appearance and character of our state and could make it a less desirable place to live work and visit.”

– James Wick, A State Highway Project in Your Town – A Primer for Citizens and Public Officials (1998).

That is not to say that all highway projects are disastrous and a threat to historic resources. Rather it is important to recognize that our built environment is constantly changing and growing, and one small effect after another can greatly alter where we live. Highways are deeply rooted in our history, our present, and our future. Highways run through our historic districts as Main Streets. Combining transportation, preservation, and pedestrian livability is a concept explored by the Complete Streets movement. Incorporating and respecting all of our resources is an important task of planners and regulators and citizens.

Highways and historic preservation go hand in hand. And who doesn’t long for the lure of the open road? It’s a blank canvas for new adventures and a book filled with the travels of others.