I think you’ll agree…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
In the center of Randolph, Vermont, just down the tracks from the Randolph Depot sits the former Randolph Coal and Ice Shed, ca. 1920. The railroad is no longer delivering coal to Randolph, but the structures sit relatively intact and intriguing.
The rail industry has changed in the past 100 years, but these buildings allow us to understand how important this transportation network was to our country. Whether carrying passengers, agricultural products, timber, coal, quarry products, it was the best mode of transportation at the time. For this reason, towns were often built around the railroad and associated buildings were located prominently in the centers of our cities and towns. Do these rail buildings have a use? It’s hard, as they remain in railroad right-of-way, and often must be relocated. What could a former coal be used for in a new life? Any ideas?
The Carriage Museum houses the museum’s collection of more than 200 horse-drawn carriages, widely recognized as the finest in the United States. About 100 carriages are regularly on display, along with other rare artifacts from the carriage era. Admired for their beauty and craftsmanship, the carriages reflect an important part of America’s industrial and transportation history. The Carriage Museum also houses an authentic 19th century carriage making shop, complete with working machinery.
Long Islanders probably remember the carriage museum from elementary school field trips (fourth grade, anyone?). Today the carriage museum houses many exhibits that illustrate the evolution of carriages (that is to say horse and buggy, not baby carriage) and the importance of transportation to the development and culture of Long Island. From market wagons to stagecoaches to small peddler wagons and fire hose wagons, it makes for an interesting visit.
If you’re interested in history, Long Island history, or transportation, you will enjoy a visit to the Long Island Museum.
Voting for the 2013 Othmar H. Ammann Awards has been extended to January 11, 2014. (You can thank these polar vortex/arctic blasts/ice storms).
The Othmar H. Ammann Awards honors the Swiss-American, internationally known bridge engineer. Read more about the awards on The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.
Why vote? To raise awareness for the world’s significant bridges. As Jason Smith, writer of The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles blog, this is like the Bridge Bowl.
The categories include (among others):
- Bridge of the Year
- Mystery Bridge
- Best Photo
- Best Preservation Example
- Spectacular Disaster
Check it out and show bridges some love. Get your ballot here. Vote by Saturday January 11, Winners announced January 13, 2014.