Social Media in the Modern Age of Preservation

Social media. Let’s talk about it. Are you into it for personal reasons? Professional reasons? Documentation reasons or disappearing conversations?

My, how different it is today than the days of AOL Instant Messenger (“AIM”) and Myspace. Who in the 20s-30s age range does not have fond memories of IM’ing your friends and your crush to all hours of the night and creating the perfect away message?

I love social media, to a certain extent. Sometimes it feels frivolous and ridiculous, but so be it. There are benefits, too. I love blogs and Instagram and Twitter, but gave up Facebook years ago and don’t care to learn Snapchat. To each her own, right? Social media has helped to grow my professional career within preservation as well as my preservation friendships and passion.

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Instagram is my favorite.

Because preservation is a lifestyle, so to speak, our personal lives and our “personal brands” often include our professional life. How do you handle that on social media? I’m interested to know as to what you decide to share on your public social media accounts?

Preservation in Pink, the blog, has always been visible to the public, sometimes with more personal details than other times, but nothing that I would feel weird about if my employer read, for example. (Actually, my firm is very supportive of my outside-of-work preservation endeavors, for which I’m grateful.) Twitter @presinpink often gets my personal opinions (re: politics and policies) and the other sides of me (USA Skeleton, running, gymnastics fan, #btv topics), and Instagram for @presinpink is pure preservation (okay, sometimes the cats pop in to say hello).

However, I’m a documentation addict, so I use a private Instagram account to document my personal life (and then send it to Chatbooks for automatic photo albums. I love them.) Snapchat doesn’t seem to make sense to me, or Instagram stories. Why would want your pictures to disappear?! asks the preservationist. Someone explain this to me.

Preservationists and non-preservationists, do you use social media apps for professional or personal reasons? Do you use it for documentation? How do you decide what to put on which platform? Do you think preservation is one of those fields that warrants blurring the line between personal and professional?

Some days I have awesome field adventures. Other days, I’m stuck behind a desk. Preservation is often a lot of report writing and paper work!

And, a general social media warning, because it seems to me that combination professional and personal accounts are becoming more common: comparison is the thief of joy. Everyone has good and bad professional days: days stuck under paperwork and those in the field. We all have normal, rainy weekends and beautiful “instagrammable” vacations at some point. We all have successes, failures, struggles, and happiness. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

(Okay, off my soap box of social media. Please, chime in!)

Free Advice?

A confession of sorts: I read a fair number of blogs, including historic preservation blogs, wedding planning blogs, home design blogs, running blogs, and blogs of friends. I’m not a prolific blog commenter, particularly on extremely popular home design and wedding blogs. There are already hundreds of comments, so I do not feel the need, particularly if I’m in disagreement. (After all, if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to read it.) But last week I couldn’t help myself: I had to comment on something appalling.

A home design/DIY blog was writing about the decision to paint or not to paint a brick house. Seeing as I’m currently studying architectural conservation in school and we thoroughly discussed bricks, their function, moisture levels, and the consequences of poor alterations, I suddenly had this terrible image of some paint-happy-home-owner slapping paint on a beautiful historic house with a load bearing brick wall. Or someone who hated paint deciding to sandblast the entire brick exterior. And I panicked! Of course, I do not know the number of readers who have a historic house, but I figured the odds are pretty good. So I gave into the urge and briefly mentioned how sandblasting or painting may not be a good idea, how the brick functions to let moisture in and out, and I added some links from the National Park Service Preservation Briefs series. Maybe no one read my comment or people thought I was crazy, but at least I felt better about the situation. I didn’t receive any comments directed at mine, so maybe people did think I was crazy. But hopefully some people checked out the NPS. After all, we preservationists all know how bad sandblasting is for buildings. There are very few instances in which is a good idea.

Fellow preservationists, how often do you find yourself inserting your historic preservation ethics into general conversation? I mean, when you are outside of your work circle or your circle of like-minded thinkers? Not everyone you know will be willing talk about the relationships between quality of life + historic buildings + local buildings + zoning laws all at once or as often as you’d like. Or what about your friends and neighbors who own a historic (or old) home and are voluntarily sharing their “renovation” plans with you? What if the ideas are atrocious in the sense that they go against all preservation ethics? Are you morally/ethically required to teach preservation whenever possible? Have there been times when you wish you said something or wish you hadn’t said anything?

I’ve pondered this question here and there. Probably, the socially acceptable thing to do is to casually bring up historic preservation whenever it seems appropriate. Obviously, jamming ideas down someone’s throat will not help your case.  But, if we do not take a risk once in a while and introduce preservation and its resources to new people, then our uphill climb will be even steeper and farther. Would I have brought up paint + sandblasting in a conversation rather than on the internet? Well, probably.  With my family and friends? Most definitely. My family is used to me inserting preservation related discussion into everything.  Then again, sometimes it’s harder to teach family than it is to teach strangers. No matter with whom, it is a delicate balance of introducing preservation and not appearing too-high-on-your-horse, so to speak. (Or maybe too-high-on-your-house? haha.) So, what do you do? How often do you talk preservation outside of your preservation circle? What tricks of the trade work best for you? Are you more likely to discuss the economic benefits of preservation or architectural conservation?

Grown on Long Island

Long Island used to be the country escape from the city’s five boroughs and Nassau County. Suffolk County, eastern Long Island, was so far away from everything else. When my grandparents moved to Suffolk County in 1957, they lived down the block from a potato farm. That farm later became the land for my elementary school, but my grandfather continued to tell stories of walking down the street to pick potatoes. For all of my life, I’ve seen Long Island expand with continuous development, and I have known the farms to be “out east” (that is past Riverhead on the map). But, mostly I didn’t see farms. I imagined that they were quickly disappearing, especially when I saw old strawberry farms developed into strip malls. It always makes me sad.

Last week my dad informed us that one of the remaining farm stands by us would be going out of business after this summer season. The owner said that it is just too difficult to compete with the grocery stores and the bulk stores.  People do not take separate trips to get produce, at least not around here.  When we needed flowers for a party, my mom suggested that I check the farm stand. The owner said she could easily get me fresh cut flowers, but suggested that I go to the actual farm where she would buy them, as I’d probably get a better price and I could see them before buying (which is important for an engagement party).

Vinny and I headed out to Andrews Family Farm on Sound Avenue in Wading River, NY and the woman taking care of the greenhouses was extremely helpful even though they happened to be closed at the time. Still, she showed us bouquets of fresh cut flowers and the sunflower field. Everything was beautiful. We placed an order and picked up the flowers a few days later.  We felt so good buying flowers from a local Long Island Farm and the flowers were more beautiful and much more affordable than anything from a florist. As I was standing in line to pay I noticed brochures for the Long Island Farm Bureau and the website, Grown on Long Island.

Beautiful sunflowers.

Beautiful sunflowers.

I suppose I’d never thought about it, but the farm bureau is working hard to promote local Long Island farm produce and flowers and landscaping businesses. The Long Island supermarket, King Kullen, partners with Long Island farmers to sell produce and flowers in the store. Farmers markets can still be found and the website offers suggestions on how to eat locally and why buying locally benefits Long Island.

Mixed fresh cut flowers.

Mixed fresh cut flowers.

Despite my usual negativity toward Long Island’s “progress,” finding the flowers and these websites made my day. It’s always nice to see that some of the countryside my grandparents and my mother remember.

Road Trip Reflections

Before Vinny and I left on our road trip, we decided to establish a few tenets for our trip. Number one, we would stick to a budget of $100 per day. Number two, no chain hotels or restaurants.  We chose these tenets to keep the trip affordable, to prove that interstates and chains are avoidable in most cases, to prove that road trips that support local businesses can fit the budget of the everyday American, and also just to add a challenge to our planning. Number three, we would travel state highways and US highways, not interstates, except for sections of getting in, around, and out of big cities.

How did we do? Well, as for the $100 per day budget, sometimes we were over, sometimes we were under. We hadn’t exactly thought of this from the get-go, but because each day is different, the budget needs to be moved around on some days. For example, a day of staying at a campground and just hanging around often didn’t require much money, except for some food, firewood, and the camping fee. A day of all driving, buying groceries for the next few days, and then staying at a campground often reached just at the budget because everything adds up quickly. Mackinac Island was our most expensive day, and we knew it would be. That day added to around $150 (ferry tickets, bike rentals, fudge, lunch, campground – really the ferry tickets ate the budget that day). But other days, like camping in Ohio or Indiana fell more around $75 or $80.  Thus, our budget was not completely accurate, but we did our best to stick to it and never felt like we were blatantly ignoring it. It was always a consideration and if we were rich travelers, then we probably would have spent more.  So we spent what we figured. It’s a good rule of thumb to always (in the back of your head) plan on spending more than originally planned when traveling.

Our answer: yes, it is possible to spend $100 per day for a road trip for two people. Our biggest parts of that were camping the entire way, shopping in grocery stores and stocking up for two days (don’t forget the ice!), and eating only one meal out per day if we wanted to eat out somewhere.

As far as no chain hotels or restaurants, we did our absolute best. The majority of the time, we did a great job. However, there were a few slip-ups. The first one was staying at the Indian Creek RV Resort in Geneva-on-the-lake, Ohio. Originally we planned to stay at Geneva State Park, but that required a two night stay, so I had to quickly find somewhere else. After I booked it, I found out that it is actually owned by a much larger company.  We didn’t make that mistake again. Then, while looking for breakfast in downtown South Bend, Indiana, we saw a restaurant called La Peep. The menu looked good and it was downtown near the old theater, so we figured it would be worth a shot. As we were sitting inside, looking around, and reading the menu, I had a feeling that it was a chain. When I looked at the back of the menu, I realized it was – a Midwestern and western chain. We obviously had never heard of it. For the record, the breakfast was not as good as many of the local places where we ate. And then one night, we stayed in a hotel in Beloit, Wisconsin. This came out of necessity, after arriving at our planned campground to find a domestic disturbance dispute and many arguments at the campsite right next to us. For a variety of reasons, we decided to leave. So we started driving around rural southern Wisconsin in hopes of finding somewhere to stay. It was late and we knew that we should take what we find. We knew the hotels would be near the interstate, so we headed that way in the dark past many farm fields. We ended up at a Holiday Inn Express and just accepted that it was obviously against the no-chain rule. But, desperate times call for desperate measures. That day was another one over budget.

For the most part, we did avoid all chains except for grocery stores and gas stations. We found great restaurants and campgrounds and enjoyed all of them.

Interstates or state & US highways? This has the most complications, since we did choose to travel the interstate in some instances. They included: getting out of New York and New Jersey, getting out of Detroit, Michigan (until we could jump on a highway), getting into and out of Minneapolis, MN, going to Milwaukee, and heading home from Columbus, Ohio.  So we’re not perfect and often had we planned better, we could have spent the extra time on the interstate. One thing that this trip taught us was that sometimes the interstates are much better for getting from place to place. The smaller highways aren’t built for interstate traffic and sometimes they were slow, as if we were on Long Island. Sometimes the interstates were the same roads as US highways, making it so we were on both at once. We confirmed our belief that interstates are boring. When we did choose the interstate, we were always more tired and restless without scenery along our way. We always hoped that the journey would end sooner, because then it was just miles, it wasn’t really a trip. So, when we have the option and the time, we will always choose the scenic roads and the byways. It can be done easily, it just needs to be planned.

We enjoyed the trip very much, though we probably wouldn’t repeat the same route as it was not our favorite trip ever planned. However, we wanted to see that part of the country and we are glad we did. (I’m still dying for the Rocky Mountain west road trip – someday.)  A few friends asked us what our least favorite thing was that we saw. I thought about it for a while and then I realized that in many places, I felt as though I couldn’t tell you where we were because everything looked the same, like Anywhere, USA. Sometimes I felt like I was on Long Island. Chains started because people appreciated and wanted the same thing – cleanliness, operations, food, lodging – to make home away from home. However, when I travel, I don’t want to be home. I want to be somewhere new and see something new, as many of us do. Seeing the same restaurants, stores, and hotels everywhere sometimes made me ask why I had left home. That is another reason Vinny and I chose to go the non-chain route – to appreciate the different parts of America.

Maybe the tides are changing, and Americans will want unique food, lodging, and shopping everywhere. Maybe someday the chains will not be what takes over the country and corporate America will be totally different. I have to believe that because it would be such a shame to have no need to travel anywhere, knowing that every place was the same as the one before and the one after it.

Luckily, that feeling of sameness didn’t happen everywhere and we really did enjoy our Great Lakes Road Trip 2009. We tend to travel many places at once, because we like to take an overview of a region to see where we would like to return and spend more time. Not everyone prefers to travel this way, but it’s what Vinny and I do. And while we traveled these 3,641 miles, we came across places we would have never found otherwise. Wrong turns and happenstance directions sometimes lead you the best way.

Thanks for reading along with the Road Trip Reports.

Looking for Coffee? Wi-fi? Got it.

Have you ever been on a road trip or a business trip or just in a new place and you really wanted a good cup of coffee or a quick snack from a local café, but you just didn’t know where to go? It’s hard to be a good preservationist (in the lifestyle sense) when you’re typically greeted with chain retailers and restaurants when you arrive in a new place, whether it be near the airport or off the interstate or on the outskirts of a downtown.

It’s easy to talk about loving the local places more than the national chains, but unless you’ve done a decent amount of planning or have a lot of time on your hands or you have excellent geographic intuition, finding those unique places in difficult and sometimes out of the question. And while maybe one cup of Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts won’t hurt your preservation soul, it would be even better to find a local coffee shop.

If you feel the same way, you will understand just how thrilled I was when I stumbled across Indie Coffee shops. It’s an internet database that compiles independently owned coffee shops across the United States. As of right now, there are 1838 coffee shops in 871 cities listed. You can search by town, address, zip code – it’s easy. What’s even better is that most of the entries have details beyond the address and phone number. It lists if there is Wi-Fi, food, alcohol, indoor seating, outdoor seating, and if it is a chain of any sorts.  Visitors to the site can submit their local coffee shops if they are not listed. Obviously, there are many more than 1838 in the country.  Go ahead and add your favorites! I added Java Bean Plantation in Southern Pines.

From the indiecoffeeshops.com “about us” section:  It’s pretty simple … we love coffee and the atmosphere of our neighborhood coffee shops. As the name suggests, this website’s purpose is to provide information on local, independent coffee shops so that people have an accessible alternative to the major chains, no matter where they are.

Consider this an excellent road trip tool. I’ll be using it to help plan out my next trip. After all, I always need a cup of good, strong coffee.

click to follow link
click to follow link

Wholesale vs. Big Box Retail

Take your pick: are you someone who despises Wal-Mart or has a moral confliction about Target, or avoids Starbucks whenever possible, or someone who glares at Best Buy? Yet, at the same time we shop at big name grocery stores, without having big box guilt.  No one’s perfect, right?

Everyone has his or her own pet peeves when it comes to shopping; we pick our battles. Yet, regardless of our shopping habits, we all still want a good deal. If we’re not careful about money and if we don’t spend it wisely, we’ll end up without money and things go downhill from there.  So, we bargain shop.

If you’re shopping for a big family or a big party, wholesale retailers do offer good deals; buying in bulk is almost always cheaper. Yet, obviously, this is the sort of thing that hastened the decline of locally owned businesses that cannot buy and sell in bulk.  

While Wal-Mart and Target and Kmart are battles of their own sort, how do they compare to wholesale retailers like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s? The wholesalers offer even better “value” for your money, or so we are led to believe.  My disdain for big box retailers is well known, but I have never been that bothered by places like Costco and BJ’s. (Sam’s Club, as it owned by Wal-Mart does bother me. Like I said, we all pick our battles).

Thus, I need to ask: do you consider wholesale retailers to be the same as big box retailers? Are they bringing the same havoc and effects to our towns and communities?  After all, they are even bigger “box” buildings, have acres of asphalt, and would definitely put similar companies out of business. Or, is it a completely different method  and experience of shopping?  I have attempted to find research on the subject, but haven’t had any luck. If you can speak on the subject (factually or opinionated), please do!