Gather thousands of preservationists together and there is a lot to talk about, which is more than buildings. Sessions discussed historic sites, publicity, economic revitalization, energy efficiency, social media, the 50 year “rule”, diversity, new ideas for building uses, community advocacy, bridge rehabilitation, federal laws (NEPA & NHPA), and much more. While it’s great to have so many choices for which sessions to attend, my complaint is that there are too many options. Having to choose from one of five or more at one time makes me feel like I’m missing out on important education opportunities. Of course that tends to sound like a “first world problem” but I’m letting you know how busy a National Trust conference can be.
Each session is worthy of discussion, but for this overview I’ll note some of my biggest takeaways (ideas and/or food for thought) and go into greater detail in subsequent posts. You can also find recaps from the Preservation Leadership Forum blog for the whole conference and daily recaps.
Held in the Madame Walker Theater.
Conversation Starter: Diversity in Preservation: Rethinking Standards and Practices
A conversation starter worked like this: a panel provided the background information and set the stage for discussion on the topic. Audience members wrote questions on index cards and the moderator selected questions for the panel to answer. This panel discussed how preservation is building focused; preservationists speak the language of buildings. Yet, how does that impact important places that do not have significant buildings anymore (perhaps they are lost or have lost historic integrity)? Is there a way to make ordinary buildings significant? It’s the discussion of authenticity v. integrity. How much of a role does association play? Is the National Register effective in preserving our significant places? Where are we moving in the future? Are we changing standards or practices, both or none?
As you can surmise, this was a great panel for getting your preservation theory & practices brain working overtime. Rather than being told what to think, the audience participated in the conversation, making the session feel like a good class in school when we’d all sit around and talk theory.
New Media, New Audiences: Case Studies in Social Media
The much anticipated social media panel (one of the panels) with Kayla, Dana, Michelle, and Meagan. Each of us discussed how we use social for preservation work, individually and for our organizations and advocacy. Following the brief presentations, the audience divided into groups of five. We answered questions about social media, helped people work through their challenges and consider what might work for their needs. Each group was different, and all sounded like they went over well. At the end of the group breakout session, everyone wrote their lessons learned on 8×11 analog Twitter cards to tape on the wall sharing what they learned or another thought from the session.
Why is social media at a preservation conference? Simply stated, social media is not only for our personal lives. It can help our organizations be included in conversations throughout communities and across the country. It builds relationships and increases networks in a more genuine way than some might expect from social media. (After all, we preservationists love authenticity, so we’re going to be ourselves, right?) Our goal was to show that social media (whether blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) can help to share powerful messages and create support for preservation causes. And it’s not just for the younger generations, nor do you have to use all of the social media avenues. It’s also fun. In other words, go ahead, jump on the preservation + social media bandwagon. You’ll be glad you did.
Our analog Twitter wall!
Seaside as A Historic District: Evaluating the Significance of New Urbanism Developments
Another one of my favorite sessions, hearkening to the day of Mary Washington where we were fascinated by New Urbanism developments (because some, quite frankly, were creepy, whereas others seemed like good places to live. Though we were unable to decide if preservationists could live in new developments, however well designed, because of all of the historic homes and communities out there). This session presented examples of planned communities throughout American history (think Radburn, NJ, all the Levittowns, the Greenbelt communities) and then discussed new communities (new urbanism) such as Seaside, FL and Reston, VA. What is the correlation between new urbanism and historic preservation? Are these new communities too Disney-like or gentrified? And the discussion led back to our favorite terms of significance and authenticity. The best thought to share: New urbanism is learning to build new cities in the fashion of successful old cities (i.e. old urbanism?), which have survived because of historic preservation. Perhaps the two fields: historic preservation and urban planning have more in common than previously thought.
Spans to Somewhere: Creative Outcomes for Large Transportation Projects in Historic Settings
A big transportation project is near and dear to my heart due to my days with the Lake Champlain Bridge. Unfortunately many of our larger historic bridges are at risk for demolition because they no longer meet the service levels or have suffered deterioration. This session discussed the Milton-Madison Bridge as well as the Louisville, KY bridge projects and how the communities worked to mitigate the loss of their bridge. While the regulatory world (Section 106 & Section 4(f)) isn’t often discussed in National Trust sessions, it is important to remember that the laws do play a role in everyone’s lives. And community input is an important part of these regulations. Citizens (stakeholders) can help to direct the outcome of a project, when working with the decision makers. The outcome can include rehabilitation, or it can include mitigation (a unique bridge design, historic research or documentation, interpretive panels, preservation planning, etc.)
Those are just a few of the sessions and a few thoughts – hopefully some to get your preservation brain intrigued. If you attended the conference, what were some of your favorite sessions?