For years now, I’ve had preservation friends from social media; but, it was only about two years ago that I started to meet my “social media” friends in “real life”. I love making the world smaller and meeting friends who are doing inspiring work. Enter a new series to Preservation in Pink: Five Questions With. In this series, I’m talking with colleagues, social media friends, and others I admire to learn some tricks of the trade, hear their stories, and introduce you to more preservationists.
Next up (#5) in the series is Clint Tankersley.
Those deep in the preservation world will already know Clint from Presonomics, the non-profit organization that promotes the economic benefits of restoring historic buildings. Or, if you’re a podcast junkie, you might know Clint from his podcast HiFi History.
At the PastForward conference in November, Clint participated in the Instawalk and he answered many of my questions about Presonomics. Preservation & Economics can seem like a daunting task, but Clint and his team jumped in headfirst (all volunteers!) to make it easier for all of us. Clint’s hard work and motivation to help spread the good news of preservation as well as the tougher topics is inspiring and admirable. I thought you might like to meet Clint and learn about these endeavors. Read on!
- You are a preservationist and a lawyer. How did you decide to do both, and which came first?
I’ve loved history all my life. I know that’s a cliche thing to say in the preservation field, but for me love of history and historic places was almost inborn. My parents, who grew up poor without many opportunities to travel, were always taking my siblings and me to visit awesome historic places. After I took Mr. Cory Callahan’s riveting and unconventional 10th grade World History class, I even thought I might want to be a history teacher one day. But in college I moved into what I saw as a more useful, more lucrative field—business management. Taking business law courses from a brilliant, smart-mouthed, no-nonsense lawyer moved me towards a legal career.
So, law school came first. I never ever thought of marrying my interest in history with a career in the law. Frankly, I didn’t really understand the field of historic preservation—you can major in that? But when I got a job as a research assistant for my Environmental Law professor, Ryan Rowberry, the scales began to fall from my eyes. Professor Rowberry was a historian in medieval British history long before he became a lawyer and he had successfully combined both interests into an academic career, so I guess I had a good model. Long story short, I soon realized that I needed to focus in on preservation law. Ryan encouraged me to pursue a Master’s in Historic Preservation and I eventually relented.
- Can you explain the importance of preservationists understanding laws and the legal system?
As preservationists, we use many tools. Digital cameras, mapping software, design guidelines, electronic communication, and public outreach, to name a few. The legal system is another one of those tools. Perhaps, in some ways, it can be understood as the tool belt—it holds up and binds together all of our other tools. The law underlies everything that we do as preservationists.
But recognizing the law for what it is—a tool—means that we shouldn’t fear it. Rather, we need to wield it deftly and artfully to our own benefit. And, as a tool (or tool belt), don’t forget that it can be modified or even replaced if we don’t like it. Current laws are not the “end all be all” in the preservation paradigm. Too often, I think we let timidity or fear of failure hold us back from trying to improve our current preservation laws.
- What work has Presonomics done in 2015/16 – with whom do you work?
We’ve done a lot! But I’ll just touch on 2 projects. Most recently, we launched a new podcast (more on that later). The other project (it’s a mega-project really) is the Presonomics Open Access Repository. POAR (pronounced like “pour some knowledge into this developer’s brain”), as we affectionately call it, is a free online repository that will contain all extant publications related to preservation economics. The concept behind POAR is to make it easier for preservation activists to access economic data that can be used as powerful tools in their efforts to win over government officials, developers and property owners. This project requires extensive research and we currently have a team of research interns conducting thorough investigations one state at a time. So far, our phenomenal team has collectively logged over 700 hours of research and has documented over 1,000 publications related to preservation economics!
And lest your readers think that this will just be a huge boring list of study names with hyperlinks, let me explain further. We want to make the information from these studies as accessible as possible for the broadest possible swathe of mankind. To that end, we have read every one of these publications so you don’t have to (but they’ll be there if you want to dig in). We then pulled out all of the topics that each publication discusses and even provided a nice, one-sentence summary of each study. We believe that this pre-packaged approach will greatly simplify and empower the preservation advocacy process. Plus, we may even uncover new, previously unknown benefits of preservation by data mining all of this information.
We are deep into the research phase of POAR and we are now planning for funding opportunities to finance the digital construction of the repository itself. We will be applying for grants during 2016 and we hope to have funding secured by the beginning of 2017. Best case scenario, POAR will be fully operational about 2 years from now. That may seem like a super long time but it is quite remarkable when you consider that this is an all-volunteer endeavor.
- How would you like to see it grow?
The vision of Presonomics is to make the preservation of historic places the rule, not the exception, in the development of living communities throughout the world. To achieve this goal, we have to educate, educate, educate. At all levels (womb to tomb) and across all sectors.
We need more partners from different fields. Environmental, health care, law enforcement, poverty reduction initiatives. Those all need to have a seat at the table and I’d like Presonomics to be a facilitator of these conversations. We aim to be the go-to source for all things preservation economics.
- You also have HiFi History – how did you decide to start this podcast series? What has the response been so far?
I love podcasts (if you’re wondering, some of my favorites are Hello Internet, Freakonomics, Hardcore History, and Reply All). Listening to podcasts makes my short commute to work much more enjoyable and they really do a fabulous job of stimulating my brain. But I hungered for more preservation-related audio entertainment. So, ever the go-getter, I took it upon myself to create a new podcast, which is technically under the auspice of Presonomics.
I figured that I would give it a go and see if there is enough interest out there to support it. The show’s future is uncertain, but so far the response that I have been hearing is overwhelmingly positive. We just need many more listeners to make it viable. I believe that they will come over time. If you’re reading this right now and haven’t listened to it yet, then give it a try! I think that podcasting is a huge untapped market for the preservation movement to get its message across. History-themed podcasts are among the most popular genres out there and I am trying to figure out how to connect with that community. Things take time! But exposure to popular blogs like the cult classic Preservation in Pink may be just the boost we’ve been looking for.
Thank you, Clint! Economics is much easier to understand when you explain it. And thank you for the preservation podcast. We have been needing one! I also like that Preservation in Pink is now a “cult classic”!! ;) Keep up the good work and send our appreciation to your team.