Sunday Snapshots for Summer #11

Looking through the windows at Fort Popham (a state park in Maine), this is what you see.


Nice Ride Minnesota

Many cities have a bike share program; Minneapolis and St. Paul have Nice Ride Minnesota. What’s the purpose?

Nice Ride bikes are designed for one job, short trips in the city by people wearing regular clothes and carrying ordinary stuff. All Nice Ride bikes are the same size, the only thing you may have to adjust is the seat, and it’s easy!

Mr. Stilts came along for the ride, obviously.

Mr. Stilts came along for the ride, obviously.

Commuting to work? A quick trip to the store? In need of a ride across the city? Grab a bicycle at one of the many, many stations throughout the Twin Cities. You can rent a bike for $6 for 24 hours or $65 for a year. What a bargain! The bikes are available November – April, 24/7.

Station across from the Minneapolis Public Library.

Station across from the Minneapolis Public Library. See, they are quite popular.

At each station you get a code, which you then type into the bike stand to unlock the bike. Every time you get a new bike, you get a new code.

At each station you get a code, which you then type into the bike stand to unlock the bike. Every time you get a new bike, you get a new code.

And, Nice Ride also works well for tourists. Touring Minneapolis by bike was the perfect way to see great parts of the city.  The catch? You have 30 minutes to get between stations, otherwise you pay fees on top of your 24 hour or year subscription. With all of the stations, it’s easy. And then you can immediately take out another bicycle to continue on your journey.

All you have to do is (1) find a station, (2) insert a credit card, (3) select your subscription, (4) get a code, (5) punch in the code in the bike stand, (6) remove the bike, (7) ride and repeat within 30 minutes. You do have to enter your card at each station, but if you haven’t gone over 30 minutes, you will not be charged extra. And you can rent more than one bike at once and get more than one code.

These bikes have adjustable seats for all heights and were very easy to ride around the city. The green makes them easy to spot, and they’re fun looking bikes for cruising!

Each station has a map showing other stations so you can plan your trip.

Each station has a map showing other stations so you can plan your trip.

Hello transportation nerd, checking out the funding and yes, there is FHWA funding.

Hello transportation nerd, checking out the funding and yes, there is FHWA funding.Warms my heart.

Now, there were a couple of times when I didn’t think I’d made it to a bike rack. The $1.50 wouldn’t have ruined my day, but, hello, the challenge! That’s when the iphone app called Spotcycle (it’s free!) was incredibly helpful. Spotcycle identifies your location and shows you closest bicycle docks, how many bikes are at that station, gives you routes, timers, and more. It has cities all over the world. Check it out on your phone or on the website. Using the Spotcycle app as a tourist and doing my best to reach each station before the 30 minute limit made exploring quite the fun urban bicycle adventure.

Biking around a city was a great alternative to walking because you could cover more ground, and was definitely better than driving because it removes the need for parking and is slow enough to feel like you’re exploring. And with a bicycle I rode along the river. If you’re in a city with a bike share program, I’d highly recommend it, even just for cruising along a bike path.

What are the disadvantages of a bike share program? Safety, considering not everyone knows how to cycle in a city or knows the rules of the road; bike maintenance and security on the municipality; and usage. All of these are obstacles that can be overcome, by education and outreach. For cold weather climates, it’s a great way to get people to see their city in a new way. And for warm weather climates, it’s good all year long. And for everyone, it’s environmentally friendly and takes up less space than parking lots, garages or spaces.

Have you tried a bike share? What do you think?

Riding around Minneapolis on a Nice Ride bike. Mr. Stilts is there, too. The bikes have brackets and a bungee cord (as opposed to a basket) so you can secure whatever you need to. In my case, it was a flamingo, a pocketbook, and a water bottle.

Riding around Minneapolis on a Nice Ride bike. Mr. Stilts is there, too. The bikes have brackets and a bungee cord (as opposed to a basket) so you can secure whatever you need to. In my case, it was a flamingo, a pocketbook, and a water bottle.

Photos of Minneapolis by bike coming soon! 

The Importance of Wayfinding Signage, Gateways and Banners

Signs. Think about it. What would we do without signs? Crosswalks, road junctions, parking, street names — signs are a critical element in our lives. When they are well done, we take them for granted because they help to make our travels stress free and seamless. When they are poorly planned, it’s all we can talk about. A welcome gateway to a town and an easy way to navigate – for residents and tourists – is an important part of downtown revitalization.

Since moving to a new town and doing my best to locate all of the trails and find the best places to shop/eat, the shortcuts and the town events, I’ve realized the importance of actively promoting your own town, to its residents and to tourists. For those of us without school age children or an existing network of friends where we live, it is very hard to be in the loop. My town does not do the greatest job of publicizing events or identifying and locating its resources/activities to those not in the know. We do not have a true welcome center or a coherent signage system, despite the fact that we are in the middle of ski country. As a new resident in town, I think one of the most helpful resources would be a “you are here” map and a good town website. If only all towns could have smart phone apps like the big cities do?! (I’m kidding, sort of.)

Aside from access to information, an important element for towns and cities is the gateway. What is the first impression that tourists will have when entering the town? Or, how will residents feel when returning home? People need to feel welcome and should be directed where to go for information or how to get to the business district, where to park, how to find the baseball field, post office or library, etc. And a “You are Here” sign at a critical crossroads or center of town could do wonders. Such a sign that features a circle to represent a 5 or 10 minute walking distance could be a good idea as well.

Downtown signage is a hot topic in communities, currently, in the United States and in Europe. (Check out Legible London and the article in Slate magazine.) The goal of uniform and complementary signs throughout a town/city will hopefully help to create a positive subconscious feeling for tourists and residents. In a way, it shows community pride in addition to providing an easy visitor experience. People are more likely to return if they have felt comfortable and not stressed when visiting. Right? An effective signage and wayfinding system is an art form – almost – or at least requires forethought and planning. The Project for Public Spaces provides information about how to create that effective system.

Living in and visiting small towns who survive partially based on tourism (actually much of Vermont’s economy is fueled by the tourism industry – come visit!) has opened my eyes and perhaps changed my mind about signage and even banners. A well planned wayfinding system has the power to change a visitor’s experience and to help the town succeed.

It is now that I have to retract my distaste for banners. I first wrote about them in 2008 when I lived in Southern Pines, because I felt that in this town they were not shared throughout the town and left out businesses. That, and they actually said the word “charm” on them. Okay, I still agree with myself on those facts. However, I think the use of banners can be effective and do provide a helpful guide for travelers. For a town who is working to establish a gateway and main street feeling, banners are a good step forward.

Historic downtown banners in Southern Pines, North Carolina (2008).

So the next time you are traveling in a new place or where you live, take note of the signage. What sort of system does your town have? What do you think about signage? How about banners? If you could offer a fresh opinion, what would you change?

Preservation Photos #94

Carousel in Woodstock, VT.

What’s better than a carousel? A carousel with an ice cream shop next to it and an arcade full of vintage, free games. And it was next to a diner car. Sure, this is at a tourist stop, but who doesn’t like carousel? Exactly.

(In full disclaimer, I really have no idea how old this carousel is nor can I date it. If you know, please tell me! And on another subject, tourism fuels much of Vermont’s economy, which complicates calling things a “tourist trap.”))

Historic Sites, Modern Dilemmas

The collision of historic sites and the need for modern amenities is certainly not a new topic, yet it remains in relevant discussions about historic preservation and heritage stewardship. I’d like to continue that discussion and hear comments from others.

Where is the line between accommodating present visitors and maintaining the historic atmosphere? How much can you “get away with” on either side of the line, and how much is appropriate? By our American standards, insurance, and regulations, buildings (including historic sites) require up-to-code utilities and parking and accessibility modifications. It is our understanding that these amenities attract visitors, perhaps even those who are not typical historic site goers. At the same time, it is also our subjective opinion that telephone wires, parking lots and 21st century vehicles terribly detract from the setting and feeling of the historic site and landscape. Yet, we cannot have a profitable site without modern amenities. We need them. What do we have here, but a Catch-22 situation?

The question is: how do we enjoy our significant heritage sites while protecting their historic integrity at the same time? It is a very fine line, because change happens in unnoticeable increments. Before long, the site or building could look completely different. A few generations from now, preservation professionals may wonder just what we thought we were doing.

As to successfully integrating historic and modern, is the problem our perception? Maybe when we think of historic and modern, we should be thinking of it as a continuum of time rather than having a distinct boundary. The past connects us to our ancestors; it doesn’t separate us from them. Though, do we like historic sites as a way to step out of the present? Do we often perceive historic sites as removed from the present? So perhaps the problem lies wherein we begin to separate the past and the present too much, which creates that bubble of nostalgia. But, is there a proper way to look at history? If so, who gets to determine the etiquette? Of course, there are appropriate and inappropriate methods for presenting history, but how someone considers it is an entirely different subject.

Consider parking lots again, in terms of perception. If you are looking at photographs of a historic site from, say, the 1940s, do you find the cars less obtrusive than those in a picture from 1990 or 2000? Pretend it is an early nineteenth-century historic house. Are you losing the historic feeling with the cars nearby? If not, is that because the 1940s are further removed from us and therefore, more believable as historic? Does 1990 seem like it will ever be historic? Of course it will, but it seems strange to think that, doesn’t it? And if the cars bother you no matter what the decade, why, do you suppose, has no one figured out how to integrate the clashing cultures?

Let’s take a step back. An important distinction, which I’ve yet to make in this post, is between historic properties that are museums and historic properties such as your house on the National Register. Both are significant, but have very different audiences and purposes. Excuse the generalization, but I will simplify the distinction to museums and non-museums.  Museums will exist in their own bubble of history, whereas non-museums must be incorporated into their surroundings.  Thus, there will be more restrictions on museum environments and more give-and-take outside of the non-museum world, of course. Non-museums, those that aren’t public buildings, are not subject to all amenity requirements.

But, distinction aside, how much “interference” of modern amenities is too much and how much is acceptable? Should there be cases in which nothing modern is introduced? And then, do we run the risk of ostracizing our sites because they are not welcoming to present day visitors? Is our view of historic sites entirely an American point of view?

Some more questions for thought: Have you been to historic sites that are sorely lacking in welcoming amenities or sites where the line has been crossed and integrity harmed? Parking lots may be the biggest offenders, but how can we visit sites without them – at least in this autocentric country? How can we train ourselves and each other to see time as more of a continuum, one that blends past and present?

This remains an important topic of discussion because historic preservationists often get accused of preventing progress and disliking change, when really we carefully consider what is appropriate change. Of course we cannot be opposed to progress; that’s ridiculous. Our existence is part of the world’s progress, if you will think so boldly. Preservationists recognize that change without thought is careless and results in a negative quality of life. Thus, we must be alert as to what to protect and what to adapt with the rest of progress. If every site accepts all aspects of modern amenities, how will we know how it used to be?

Your turn: what do you think of the collision between historic sites and modern amenities? Ramble on.

Tennis in New York, Larger-than-life Texas, Roadside Utah, Missouri Preservation & Vermont Outhouses

Happy Monday! Here are some interesting links and stories I came across over the weekend (with a super-long post title to attract your attention).  Enjoy!

A New York Times article on September 11, 2010, featured an article about “Long Past the Last Match Point, Debating What’s Next at Forest Hills.” The gist of it: In Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, NY, the West Side Tennis Club owns the historic West Side Tennis Stadium, constructed in 1923, which was host to the US Open and many significant events in tennis history. A tennis match has not been played at the stadium in years and the wooden benches and concrete structure are suffering from neglect and deterioration. The club, operating at a loss for many years, does not know what to do with the stadium, which is small for today’s standards. Even if money can be raised for restoration, the West Side Tennis Club is in need of a creative solution. Thoughts? {Picture below shows the Tennis Stadium in 1960. Source: the NY Times, September 11, 2010, by Patrick A. Burns. Click photo for original source.}

Need some fun places to visit? Check out 10 Endangered American Tourist Attractions Worth Saving (with pictures!) on the blog, Searching for Authenticity, based on an article in Spring 2010 Society for Commercial Archaeology newsletter (and reproduced on the SCA blog). I want to visit Tex Randall in Canyon, TX.

Tex Randall. Photo source: Click for source.

Check out this awesome blog by Steven Cornell, Utah-rchitecture, dedicated to the past, present, and future architecture of Utah. It began in January 2010 and features only a few posts per month, but all seem well-written, well researched, and very interesting! The most recent post discusses the The Birth of Utah’s Automobile Tourism — lots of motel postcards & images included.

Another blog I just found is by Preservation Research Office, a project based collaborative research organization based in St. Louis, MO.  The blog, Ecology of Absence, seeks to be,

“… a voice for historic preservation and a chronicle of architectural change in the St. Louis region… The major theme of the blog is historic architecture and the primary goal is to build awareness of that architecture and interest in preserving it. The editorial approach is to “strike the roots” and look beyond threatened buildings at the larger forces that create, change and often destroy the built environment of the city. Public policy is a key part of the analysis. Consequently, the blog focuses on changes in the built environment that come about as St. Louis attempts to stem the deindustrialization, depopulation, shrinking public services and loss of architectural fabric that define the modern American urban condition.”

Roadside, real estate, policy – good stuff. Check it out!

And lastly for today, how about designing outhouses? Believe it or not, people think about such things. The book, Outhouses by Famous Architects, proves such a statement (thanks Elyse!)  In Vermont, the Vermont Wood Manufacturers Association (VWMA) has invited Vermont architects and woodworkers to participate to design the “Green Mountain Comfort Station,” a wooden structure that will house a composting toilet to be used at outdoor recreation areas and state parks in Vermont {see article here}. The winner will be announced on September 25, 2010. Read more about the contest rules in the Burlington Free Press article from September 12, 2010, “Designers pit themselves against the old, standby trailside outhouse.”

How could you not love Vermont, I ask.