NTHP Savannah 2014: A Location Review

A street near Forsyth Park: porches, brick sidewalk, mature trees.

A street near Forsyth Park: porches, brick sidewalk, mature trees.

Savannah, Georgia: a perfect setting for the National Trust for Historic Preservation Conference (or “PastForward” as we call it these days). Historic homes and live oaks draped with spanish moss line the gridded streets and monumental squares of Savannah, planned in the manner of the Ogelthorpe Plan. Everywhere you look, the architecture is beautiful and photo-worthy. It’s a photogenic city in every sense of the word (and we preservationists love our photographic documentation). The Savannah Historic District is a National Historic Landmark District designated in 1966. The Historic Savannah Foundation is active in restoration, stewardship, and community involvement to achieve its mission of preserving and protecting Savannah’s heritage. Students of the Savannah College of Art & Design benefit from having Savannah as a living, learning lab. Historic preservation and heritage are common conversations in Savannah (not to imply that it is always easy). You can understand why preservationists were excited for a conference in Savannah. After attending the conference, I can say that my excitement for Savannah was well worth it. The National Trust has always put together great conferences, too.

However, I am interested in discussing the location in more detail. Anyone up for it? Let me explain. Many of the conference sessions were held at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center located on Hutchinson Island, which is across the river from the city of Savannah. It’s a short drive over the bridge or a free ferry ride across the river, which wasn’t really a big deal. The issue that I found (and discussed and overheard many times) related to the fact that the convention center felt so far removed from downtown Savannah.

Looking at Hutchinson Island, waiting for the ferry from the Savannah side.

Looking at Hutchinson Island, waiting for the ferry from the Savannah side.

Why did it feel so far removed? The only places on the island were the convention center and a Westin hotel. This meant that there were no local businesses to support on the island. Your break between sessions, if any break, could not be spent wandering the street to another session and passing by the local stores or cafes. Speaking of cafes, there was no place to buy a cup of coffee or a snack or lunch on the island, unless you wanted to spend an arm and a leg at the corporate hotel next door. If you took time to catch the ferry and head back to the city side, you would miss sessions, probably those lunch time sessions! That was not convenient.

In such a large convention center, there was definitely space to contract with a few local cafes or caterers to sell coffee, lunch, or snacks. If contracts limited that option, perhaps that was not the best location. On Thursday and Friday there were “nosh and network” breaks in the preservation studio, but it didn’t quite fit the bill. Most people eat and drink coffee on different schedules. This seemed like a major oversight.

In a city so large with so many hotels located in the downtown historic district, it would seem that session locations could be spread out and attendees could walk from one to another or easily slip outside for a coffee before catching the next session. Spending most of the day in a convention center, only staring at the historic district across the river, felt odd to a preservationist, particularly to one attending a historic preservation conference.

Perhaps there were perfectly good reasons to site the conference across the river. It should be noted that field sessions, TrustLive and other events were located on the city side of the river, but many sessions were held at the convention center. I’d be interested to know why. And I’d recommend to the National Trust that the next conference be sited more in line with preservation practices.

In summary: great conference content, great overall location, poor conference HQ choice.

What do you think?

Spotlight on the Historic Bridge Foundation, Part One

While driving around Georgia, I’ve noticed one bridge railing in particular: a two bar concrete railing with rectangular concrete posts. It’s a rather simple design and it’s used all over Georgia’s highways (those that I’ve seen in south Georgia), from long spans to short spans, interstates and state highways. Something about this railing says engineering and economic efficiency, yet there is an aesthetic quality to it. And those that are replaced with concrete Jersey barriers are just not the same.

Georgia railing as seen from the passenger seat.

Georgia railing as seen from the passenger seat.

Bridges take us from one side to another, physically and/or metaphorically (whichever you prefer). Historic bridges stand as records of engineering heritage. Each genre of bridge speaks to its designers, materials available at the time, the technology available, the width of vehicles they transported, and methods of construction. And, quite often, those historic bridges that survive today are beautiful, photogenic and interesting to see. Covered bridges, metal truss bridges, arch bridges, small ornamental concrete railings – they’re all a part of the larger picture of bridges and transportation.

Unfortunately, because our transportation needs are constantly changing due to larger, heavier vehicles, more traffic, and safety standards, many of our historic bridges must be repaired, altered, or replaced. Deferred maintenance and deteriorating materials place many of our historic bridges at risk for demolition. Even with federal regulations to aid in preservation, the decision to rehabilitate a historic bridge is sometimes a difficult path.

Every resource needs an advocate or many, and advocates need a guiding force. What do historic bridges have? Enter the Historic Bridge Foundation based in Austin, TX. Before diving into the nuts and bolts of HBF, read the story on the main page, which is written by Executive Director, Kitty Henderson. She writes about the Vida Shaw Swing Bridge and how it really inspired the work of the HBF.

After you read Kitty’s story, take a moment in the comments to share your favorite bridge or a bridge story. Why do you love bridges? What got you hooked on bridges? What do you think of bridges? Tomorrow I’ll share more about the HBF and its mission, work, accomplishments, and challenges. 

A few bridges posts from over the years (I love bridges; I write about them often):

I’m looking forward to our bridge conversations. And if you’re here for #pastforward, be sure to visit the Historic Bridge Foundation in the Preservation Studio (exhibitor’s hall).

In Savannah at the National Historic Preservation Conference

This week is the annual National Trust for Historic Preservation Conference in Savannah, GA. If you’re in with the social media crowd (anyone can be, jump on!) you’ll see the hashtag #presconf and #pastforward. If you see that this week, you’ll know that person is hanging out with a couple of thousand preservationists in Savannah. It’s warm and sunny and beautiful, and I’m looking forward an intense few days of preservation overload, in the best possible way. Already, I’ve been touring Georgia with some of my Vermont preservation colleagues and we’ve had a blast and some true southern experiences. I hope you don’t mind picture overload! Get ready for more this week.

If you’re not able to be here in Savannah, the NTHP has made it easier to join from afar. Check out these live streaming events. Register (free) so you can get your virtual attendance packets. Hope you enjoy. Let me know how it goes! 

One part of the conference includes the exhibitor’s hall, at which preservation minded businesses, organizations, and schools set up camp to chat with conference goers and let everyone know what they have to offer. This week it is my pleasure to share with you the Historic Bridge Foundation. Read on in the next post. 

It’s that Time Again!

Who is going to the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference next week in Savannah, GA? More information on it’s way. Hope to see you there!

pastforward

Where Are the Running Preservationists?

Are you a historic preservationist and a runner? If so, raise your hand high! Recently a friend pointed out to me that most of my friends here in Vermont are (a) lawyers – specifically environmental lawyers – and (b) runners. More specifically, they are running lawyers. Is there a connection between being a lawyer and a runner? The lawyers say that it’s Type A personality and the need for stress relief that drive them to run. And I started to wonder: where are the running-preservationists?

Running-preservationists, you must be around somewhere. I’m thinking you’re in the south, mostly, based on the 5K races I could find. This year was the 8th Annual Race for Preservation, hosted by the Historic Savannah Foundation. And the National Trust has just announced that a team of PresNation folks will be running in the Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon/Half Marathon/Relay on November 8, the Saturday before this year’s Preservation Conference.

A few others I’ve found:

Do you have any others? Are you a runner?

I’m a runner and a preservationist, two of the first ways I’ll describe myself. Both are deeply rooted in my soul. The two go hand-in-hand. I love running in new places; it’s the best form of sight-seeing because it’s faster than walking, more adventurous, and safer than biking or driving. Running is the easiest way to get to know a place, to learn street names and landmarks, to observe it, to study it. When you run, you see place in all of its forms: waking up in the morning, in the afternoon glow, or settling in for the night, in all sorts of weather – good and terrible. You move swiftly through neighborhoods and blocks, almost unseen, though you see so much. When I run, it’s my time with my town or city and I get to understand how the streets wind together. I memorize which sidewalks are uneven, which houses have barking dogs, and other nuances.

I know I’m not the only runner-preservationist (or would you prefer running-preservationist). Speak up! Let’s get together for a city running tour, especially at the next conference.

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Brand new running sneakers. I know you’re not surprised that they are pink. I did not choose them for their color, seriously!

p.s. more running + preservation posts: Running in the Evening Light,Running Notes, Historic Running Tours, Sounds Beneath Your Feet & Old Memories, New Memories: The Evolution of My Favorite Place.