Author Archive

INTO Delegation in Copenhagen for Climate Talks

Posted on: December 8th, 2009 by David J. Brown


In September, the members of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO)—including the National Trust for Historic Preservation—adopted the Dublin Declaration on Climate Change at the 13th International Conference of National Trusts hosted by An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland. My colleagues Emily Wadhams, Patrice Frey, and Anthony Veerkamp were members of the international working group for INTO that drafted the declaration, and both President Richard Moe and I signed the declaration on behalf of the National Trust in the U.S.

Now that document is being shared with the delegates assembled for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 15). The world’s National Trusts and similar heritage organizations are represented in Copenhagen through a delegation headed up by INTO President Simon R. Molesworth of Australia. The INTO delegation is blogging about the experience on the INTO website ( Check back daily for updates from the INTO delegation and visit the INTO website to see how our work on sustainability fits within the global heritage conservation community’s work on combating climate change.

David J. Brown is the Executive Vice President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

Thankful for Preservation Heroes

Posted on: November 24th, 2009 by David J. Brown 1 Comment


As Thanksgiving approaches, our thoughts naturally turn to family, good health, friends and the other things we treasure in life.

The Chase, WI, stone barn with its supporters.

Fans of a historic stone barn in Chase, WI, tell the world that "This Place Matters."

This year I’m thankful for the men and women who work to make our cities and towns more livable—who save places that matter all across the country. These are the preservation heroes who’ve brought a house back to life in an inner-city neighborhood; attended a public hearing to speak for the rehabilitation of the historic neighborhood school; invested their life savings in a Main Street business to help spark downtown revitalization.

Heroes like Kristin Kolkowski, who led the effort to purchase a historic stone barn in the small rural town of Chase, Wisconsin. Not just any stone barn, mind you, but a barn listed on the National Register of Historic Places that is a source of pride for the people of Chase. Once fully rehabilitated, it will serve as the town park, museum, and event center for weddings and family gatherings. Kirsten’s constant promotion of the site even led to an appearance—with their This Place Matters sign—on Good Morning America.

I’m thankful for people like Kirsten who speak up for the places that matter, even when it is unpopular. In these difficult financial times, governments often look to cut programs without considering the economic benefits that result from preservation activity. That’s what was happening earlier this year in Florida, as the state legislature threatened the state’s Main Street program with severe budget reductions claiming other programs were higher priorities. Luckily, the Main Street leadership found a powerhouse advocacy partner in the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. Together, the local Main Street leaders and the Florida Trust were able not only to preserve funding for the Florida Main Street program and the State Historic Preservation Office, but even to increase it. That’s a great outcome in face of daunting odds, and those statewide advocates join my list of preservation heroes.

  Charity Hospital Advocacy Group includes Sandra Stokes of Baton Rouge, La., winner of the Peter H. Brink Award for Individual Achievement in Historic Preservation for her work to save New Orleans’ Charity Hospital.

The Charity Hospital Advocacy Group includes Sandra Stokes, who was honored for her work to save New Orleans’ Charity Hospital.

Speaking of fighting against the system, I was fortunate this year to visit with Sandra Stokes—another preservation hero of mine—in her home state of Louisiana. Sandra Stokes doesn’t just talk preservation, she lives it—right out on the front lines.

This year, the National Trust awarded Sandra the very first Peter H. Brink Award for Individual Achievement in Historic Preservation. Here’s how we described her work at the awards ceremony in Nashville last month:

As a board member of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, Sandra has been a leader in the ongoing effort to save and reuse New Orleans’ historic Charity Hospital—a classic preservation struggle that also addresses issues from health care to the role of citizens in determining their city’s future.

She is a film-maker by profession, but in the course of the Charity Hospital battle she has taken on—and excelled at—a number of jobs. She’s become a highly effective fundraiser, for example, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to the cause. She’s an articulate spokesperson, always willing to talk (and talk and talk) with anyone, anywhere, about an issue that really matters to her. She’s an investigative reporter, tenaciously rooting out misinformation and digging for the truth—and a skilled lobbyist, too, talking her way into meetings with decision-makers, winning friends and getting results. She can be the cheerleader who rallies her colleagues when their spirits flag—and the general who inspires them to keep up the fight.

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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.

Union Station: A Personal History and a Preservation Success Story

Posted on: October 13th, 2009 by David J. Brown


union-station-nashville-101209-002Yesterday, having just arrived in Nashville for the 2009 National Preservation Conference, I found myself in the lobby of the Union Station Hotel waiting for a room and for my meetings to begin. That left me time to think…which can be dangerous.

Union Station is a Nashville landmark. It is a beautiful old pile of a building and the lobby (see photo) is stunning. But I think it is a landmark and was – in the end – saved from the wrecking ball because it has so many personal connections to people in Middle Tennessee. Take me, for instance.

My parents were part of the post-war (WWII) marriage boom that begat the well-documented baby boom. Both were from the small town of Franklin, located about 20 miles from Nashville. My father had just graduated from Vanderbilt and he and my mom were married in the First Baptist Church in Franklin. Before beginning his life-long career with the Tennessee Valley Authority, my father and his new bride had a honeymoon to take.

Luckily, they had relatives (my father’s sister) in Chicago, so they came to Union Station – like so many honeymooners, soldiers, businessmen (in those days), and families before them – and boarded a train bound for Chicago. I’ve heard stories my entire life about the plays they saw in the city, visiting Wrigley Field to see the Cubs (that must have been how I got those baseball genes), and so much more. But the stories always begin with that train ride from Union Station.

That’s why preservation is important. It helps save the places that matter to people. When I wrote the following in an op-ed in yesterday’s The Tennessean newspaper, this is what I was referring to:

I have fond memories of growing up on Main Street in Murfreesboro, where our town square, library, school, grocery store and church were just a few blocks away. Much like East Nashville today, my hometown was designed in a way that connections between people were reinforced by everyday communications and interactions. It matters how we build our communities and how we preserve them.

Almost every preservation success story like Union Station has a thousand or more personal stories holding them up. I just happen to be in the lobby of the place that launched my personal history and that of our family. That’s why they are worth fighting for and saving.


David J. Brown is the executive vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

Why Should We Care About an International National Trust Movement?

Posted on: September 17th, 2009 by David J. Brown 4 Comments


David Brown with Catherine Leonard, head of the INTO Secretariat, at Dublin Castle.

David Brown with Catherine Leonard, head of the INTO Secretariat, at Dublin Castle.

We have just completed a wonderful International Conference of National Trusts here in Dublin—the 13th in the history of the National Trust movement. I suspect that when a small group of Anglophiles gathered together in the 1970s in Scotland for what became the first gathering of the world’s National Trusts, they could not have imagined either the spread of their movement or the diversity of people, countries, issues and models that we have seen this week from among the 200+ delegates in attendance.

I’ve been fortunate to represent the National Trust for Historic Preservation at the last four conferences, and I was the chief organizer for the 2005 ICNT in Washington. Over that time, I’ve observed that this is a conference that offers something of great value to every National Trust—no matter the size or maturity of program. Here in Dublin, one only has to reflect back on the opening plenary—and the stirring call of young 16-year old Eammon Hayes—to understand that we all have much to learn. As a representative of one of the world’s largest and richest National Trusts, I was humbled to know that we would be hard pressed to showcase any program that produced such remarkable actions by so many young people as does An Taisce’s “Green Schools” program to encourage environmental and heritage stewardship. But I was also inspired to take that lesson back to make our work better and more effective.

The ICNT meetings have increasingly become forums for the discussion of critical global issues by international leaders. Today’s Irish Times includes a column where former Irish President Mary Robinson’s speech at Monday’s plenary is quoted. Columnist John Gibbons wrote:

Our “polluter profits” regime is perhaps the most egregious injustice ever visited by the powerful upon the weak. A new movement, known as climate justice, is now developing to address these profound challenges. In a space frequently infested by rock stars, former president Mary Robinson has emerged as a leader of intellect, international credibility and moral courage to articulate for the inarticulate, and be a powerful advocate for the powerless.

Earlier this week she told the International Conference of National Trusts in Dublin that “climate justice suggests the time has come to think more deeply about our conceptions of obligation and responsibility – not just within nations but beyond borders”.

And we were powerfully reminded by delegate John De Coninck of the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda at that same session, that only one in twelve people in Uganda have access to electricity. Heritage and environmental stewardship have global implications.

From the plenary sessions on climate change and citizen empowerment to the workshops highlighting the array of activities that fall under the National Trust umbrella; from the regional discussions of how we can work more effectively through the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) to the many opportunities for informal networking, I suspect every delegate and every organization found more than enough to enrich its work for the two years until we gather together again in Victoria, British Columbia in 2011.

The signing of the Dublin Declaration is just the first step in demonstrating what can happen when National Trusts and similar organizations with more than 5.5 million members worldwide band together. Before the day was over, delegates from around the world were describing how the declaration had been sent to their governmental ministers and they were gathering support for its strong consideration by world leaders gathering in Copenhagen later in the year to focus on climate change. National Trust President Richard Moe has already begun to reach out to leaders in the U.S. to let them know of our stand with our sister heritage organizations around the world.

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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.

This Place Matters Comes to Ireland’s Green Shore

Posted on: September 16th, 2009 by David J. Brown 1 Comment


Dublin Castle, site of the ICNT meetings.

Dublin Castle, site of the ICNT meetings.

The second full day of the 13th International Conference of National Trusts (ICNT13) in Dublin featured an afternoon filled with stories about how people from around the globe engage with their heritage. In the course of a couple of hours we traveled from Indonesia to Gambia and from Ireland to the United States.

The Indonesian Heritage Trust is a partner in the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) and over the course of the past two days we’ve heard stories both poignant and inspiring of their work in the face of what may seem to be overwhelming odds. IHT Executive Director Catrini Kubontubuh told us yesterday of their strong emphasis on heritage education, as the organization is choosing not only to respond to their situation but proactively shape it for the future. There’s a lesson to be had for even the strongest and largest National Trusts.

Eleonore De Merode of The Prince Claus Fund in The Netherlands inspired us with example after example of how local heritage advocates in places such as Gambia used seed grants from the fund to respond to the most cruel situations—fire, natural disasters, war—and restore and rebuild the keystones of their local heritage. The fund’s Cultural Emergency Response program—and its focus on helping countries hit by disaster—is an example of how support of preservation and conservation can help restore a community’s soul when facing the most devastating situations.

An Taisce’s lively and energetic Patricia Oliver and Michael John O’Mahony, director and manager respectively of the Environmental Education Unit, demonstrated first hand why the National Trust for Ireland’s signature “Green Schools” program is such a hit. Many of the conference participants had visited a Green School in Dublin earlier in the day, but we all had a chance to learn firsthand how this program—which depends so much on student leadership—has taken hold and now involves a majority of Ireland’s schools and students. Not content just to run an exemplary program, An Taisce has also taken the time to document its success AND the positive impact on both the environment and the economy.

I was privileged to be a part of this plenary panel to discuss the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s efforts to use online communications and social media to empower citizens to act on behalf of the places that matter here in the US. We examined how more than 4,000 citizens contacted members of Congress within two days of a blog posting and some amazing viral communication about the Department of the Army’s plan to replace, rather than repair, Arlington’s Cemetery’s iconic Tomb of the Unknowns. That response pushed Congress and the Army to change course. I showcased our successful Partners in Preservation program with American Express, where online voting and social media has brought hundreds of thousands of new supporters to historic sites in four U.S. cities. The recent Second Line parade in New Orleans to protest LSU’s plans for Charity Hospital and the Mid-City Neighborhood was organized in part through Facebook and Twitter postings by local activists, in another example of how people use 21st century communications tools—linked in this case with an old New Orleans’ tradition—to save the city from the misguided plans of government.

I ended with an explanation of our This Place Matters campaign, which as I write is approaching 2,000 photos posted on our Flickr site. This program to ask individuals to tell us what places are important in their communities and their lives struck a resonant chord with all the participants. We ended with a little social media effort of our own, telling the world in our own This Place Matters picture that Dublin Castle is a place that matters. Don’t be surprised to see delegates to ICNT—newly empowered with a This Place Matters placard—begin posting pictures from Dublin and around the world. It is a simple yet compelling campaign which is one more way we can help you protect, enhance, and enjoy the places that matter.


David J. Brown is the Executive Vice President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

Irish History: As Fresh as Today’s News

Posted on: September 16th, 2009 by David J. Brown


River Boyne lock restoration project.

River Boyne lock restoration project.

As part of today’s International Conference of National Trusts, I joined a tour into the countryside to explore a bit of Irish history and see rehabilitation and interpretive efforts at work.

Our host for the conference, An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, owns a 1748 canal running through Ireland’s valley of the kings along the River Boyne. The canal is under restoration and we had a chance to meet with the energetic project manager and learn about his work. The lock shown above is where the salt water from the sea meets the fresh water of the river.

This important part of the Irish attempt to capitalize on the Industrial Revolution was only one of the sites we visited. Another was the site of the Battle of the Boyne, where in 1690  protestant King William of Orange defeated the army of the Catholic King James II. There’s a recently opened visitors and interpretive center which we toured with a guide from the site.

The Battle of the Boyne.

The Battle of the Boyne.

As An Taisce put it in the conference materials, “the outcome of this battle has been the source of much bitterness historically and the correct interpretation of the site has been integral to the Irish Peace Process.” The closing line of the center’s interpretive film put it a little more directly: Issues arose in the battle that “reverberate to today.” The good efforts to focus on how different parts of Ireland view the battle and its outcome were obvious, showing another way historic places resonate even today. You could say that Irish history isn’t even history because it is as fresh as the morning’s news.

David J. Brown is the Executive Vice President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.