Preservation Round-Up: The You Say It Best Edition

Posted on: January 28th, 2011 by Jason Clement 1 Comment

Wilderness Battlefield: Saved!

Good afternoon, Nation, and welcome to your better-late-than-never edition of the Preservation Round-Up, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s twice-weekly digest of preservation news and notes from around the country.

Thanks to this hilarious video, Monday's round-up was all about self-reflection: Are we good communicators? It's an important question to consider since few issues or causes are as local leaning as historic preservation. So, when the rubber hits the road (i.e. the bulldozers are coming), are we good at explaining to folks why saving places matters?

As promised, here's a quick sampling of some of the responses we received via Facebook and Twitter.

First, Patrick Thrush got real about the truth -- and Americans' prime-time guilty pleasures:

Funny, but unfortunately all too true. Far too much boilerplate jargon in things, but if the funder does not see this sort of rubbish in the application things do not get funded. Public input indeed, as the fact is that most of these dog and pony shows merely meet a requirement for an agenda that was decided long before the first meeting was convened. And besides, if it boils down to a choice between such a meeting and staying home for the evening being entertained by American I'dull or Dancing With the Dolts, which is going to win out? Just saying...

Regarding jargon, the good folks over at the Lewes Historical Society agreed:

@HistoricLewes: @PresNation love the clip. its so true its scary. there's a time for jargon and there's a time to sit down and have a real conversation!

If you ask Anne Louro, people get preservation when they realize its all about shared heritage:

Planning is not a sexy subject and the language of urban and land-use planners is not only boring but often confusing, as aptly demonstrated by the self-deprecating planners depicted in the video. That being said, I believe that is not always the case with preservation planning. People may not understand “smart growth” and “comprehensive guide plans”, but they do understand what speaks to their collective memories and their shared heritage. Preservation planners have learned to communicate in a language that everyone understands and in a way in which people value and can identify how their cultural and built surroundings affect them.

Ask Amy Davis, and she'll tell you to brush up on your marketing (we all should!):

@amyarchivist: @PresNation If they aren't, they need to be! We have to do a lot of our own marketing & PR, so we have to be willing to speak up!

And finally, Reuben McKnight takes our question a bit further: Communication skills aside, do preservationists have a good image?

I think preservation at the local level has focused too much on prevention of bad things, and law and order, which was a very rational approach 20 years ago. But now, that negative political stigma hurts preservation efforts; people still use the word "takings" when they hear about historic designation, when the case law on this has been settled for 30+ years, and despite the fact that historic designation often is very similar to (or the same as) as a zoning change. But yet, the image persists that somehow preservation is exceptionally burdensome.

Agree? Disagree? Add to the conversation by dropping us a comment below. And with that, let's rocket through this week's preservation highlights.

First and foremost, an awesomely huge success story that I'm still happy dancing about: Walmart has decided to preserve (read: no supercenter!) Virginia's historic Wilderness Battlefield. The surprise announcement dropped early Wednesday morning and instantly made headlines all over the place. Check it out here and here and here and here and here. Beyond Orange County, news of Walmart's withdrawal also got folks thinking about stores planned for their neck of the woods. Quite simply, it was a great day for preservation. Just ask National Trust President Stephanie Meeks.

In other news, Washingtonians remember the Gayety Theater, Cincinnati goes digital, Massachusetts reclaims its core, New Orleans' Lower Mid-City has moved, Miami has a lot of people talking about parking garages, and Marylanders are standing up for their Superblock. Meanwhile, Preservation in Pink ponders the rear of buildings (great topic!) and Time Tells muses on all things modern. And just to circle back on a previous round-up, Portland has decided to demolish a Googie gem.

With that, enjoy your weekend.

Jason Lloyd Clement is an online content provider for PreservationNation.org. He is still doing a happy dance re: Wilderness Battlefield.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

News Round-Ups

One Response

  1. Patrick Thrush

    January 29, 2011

    Gaining public participation is always an issue–from a number of aspects. The exception comes about when the matter at hand concerns a cherished historic icon or a large scale development of some sort that will reshape the landscape
    –or the lives of those in the immediate area. General planning sessions and their required public input meetings rarely garner much interest. The public perception is often one of disinterest due to the very language and process highlighted by the video and article–and the knowledge that a majority of these meetings and focus groups only meet a requirement to further an agenda that was pretty much set in stone as the overall planning document was initially formulated. Thank you for your input Mr. or Ms. Citizen, we will note your thoughts on page 83 of the final document…

    Increasingly, the jargon derives from the language of the enabling legislation and guidance coming down from USC and CFR documents–more jargon! The public side of the discourse is couched in emotion and a lack of knowledge concerning the “bigger picture”. There is a failure and gap in how technical assistance training to planning entities is done–in that there is little done to teach planners and officials how to better relate and communicate with the public. Likewise, the fourth estate of the public press has an obligation to cogently share the process with it’s readers–before, during, and after the process. Perhaps one of the attendees in the “fictional” animation was a news reporter–who really wanted to be someplace else.

    What is missing in many dialogs–is the matter that practical preservation cannot exist without a sound economic foundation–and that foundation must be a recipricocal process.