Author Archive

Preservation Round-Up: The Keepin' It Green Edition

Posted on: March 17th, 2011 by Jason Clement

 

Complete the sentence: The [blank] building is almost always the one that's already built.

If you've been hanging 'round these parts for a while, this one’s a cinch. However, if you're new to PreservationNation, here's a clue: Look down at your shirt. Or your pants. Or your socks. Or maybe even your beer.

That’s right – green! (If you're not rocking the shamrock shade, consider yourself electronically pinched.)

Reusing historic places doesn’t just breathe new life into the treasures that define our neighborhoods; it's good for the environment. Think about it: Why cart a place that matters off to the landfill only to build something with a new – and often larger – footprint? It just doesn’t make sense – and those places are too important to throw away.

So, as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, let's also take a moment to show some love for the inherent green-ness of reusing older and historic buildings. First we’ll do it with photos, but I encourage you all to share stories about that place in your neighborhood that you can’t pass without thinking, “You know, that would make a great…”

Because I always adored show and tell in grade school, I’ll kick things off with two photos of a place that immediately stole my heart – and my imagination.

Behold Coronado's (as in San Diego) 1947 movie house, the Village Theatre. I quite literally stumbled upon this gem about four years ago while I was exploring the city via bike; the beauty – and promise – of this building caused me first to nearly veer into traffic, and then to collide with a newspaper stand. So it's said, situations like this support my theory that preservationists are awful behind the wheel – and I guess the handle bars – because our constant “Oh look!” gets us in trouble.

Anyway, self depreciation aside, I’m happy to report that a quick Google search revealed that things are looking up for this theater, which was boarded up and lonely when I cruised/crashed by. If anyone out there is from sunny San Diego, I’d love an update. And maybe a helmet if you’ve got one.

Now moving on. The following photos were submitted to our Flickr group called Reuse It! If you’re inspired by what you see, I encourage you to go beyond the comments section of this post by uploading your own photo. We’d love to have it.

An abandoned historic home in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Submitted by Flickr user Marcfoto.

The Middletown Depot in Middletown, New York. Submitted by Flickr user Rchrdcnnnghm.

The Igloo Hotel near Cantwell, Alaska. Submitted by Flickr user Doug2125.

Washington High School in Portland, Oregon. Submitted by Flickr user PortlandPreservation.

The Columbia Silk Mill in Columbia, Pennsylvania. Submitted by Flickr user Archivolt.

Jason Lloyd Clement in an online content provider for PreservationNation.org. Both his shirt and his socks are green today.

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.

Preservation Round-Up: The Presidential Edition

Posted on: February 21st, 2011 by Jason Clement

 

Would you rather spend Presidents' Day here or at the mall? Behold James Madison's Montpelier!

I find two things about Presidents' Day fascinating.

First, who on Earth decided that today was the perfect day to buy a new mattress? Really, if I hear the words "three-day sale" one more time, I might do something crazy -- like buy a new mattress.

Second, why can't we get our heads around how best to punctuate this holiday: Is it "Presidents Day," "Presidents' Day," or "President's Day?"

For starters, I think "Presidents Day" completely misses the mark; surely this is someones day. Regarding the other two options, a quick Google query has informed me that this holiday was originally created by Congress in 1880 as "Washington's Birthday," thereby making "President's Day" seem like the right fit.

However, for the purposes of this blog post (which will be read by zillions of people and subsequently shape all future discourse on this topic), I'm opting for "Presidents' Day," and not just because I'm naturally diplomatic and/or generally opposed to excluding people. As this columnist so eloquently states, today is the perfect opportunity "for Americans to reconnect with the past -- both distant and near -- and the giants of the office who transformed the country."

Giants as in plural.

That being said, it seemed fitting -- no, downright patriotic -- to dedicate today's round-up to two National Trust Historic Sites that tell the stories of our Oval Office Greats 24/7/365 (that means all the time). Shall we?

Our first stop is President Lincoln's Cottage -- the original Camp David. Come to find out, this humble abode wasn't just where Honest Abe went for a little rest and relaxation; the cottage served as a quiet escape for Presidents Buchanan, Hayes, and Arthur, too. I'm sure they would all be happy to know that the site just celebrated its third anniversary. From the Cottage Blog:

On February 18, 2008, Presidents Day, the Cottage opened its doors for the first time to people from around the country. It’s hard to believe that such a historically significant place was hidden for so many years. Aside from the White House, the Cottage is the most important historic site directly related to Lincoln’s presidency. There are very few authentic Lincoln sites, therefore, walking through the Cottage is literally like walking in the footsteps of our great 16th President.

Interested in checking it out? There's a coupon for that, but time's ticking.

Now let's hop on over to James Madison's Montpelier, the stately home of the Father of the Constitution where some pretty serious chess matches once went down. For years, researchers and archaeologists have had their eyes peeled for the pawns that Madison and friend Thomas Jefferson once used in their epic, hours-long showdowns. Today, two of pieces have been recovered -- in the trash of all places:

As Montpelier underwent a $25 million restoration, the home’s directors hoped that one day they might find the set so they could put it on display in the house’s drawing room. Turns out, all they had to do was rummage around in Madison’s garbage. While excavating the midden, or trash dump, about 100 yards from the house on the south side, archaeologists found two white pieces of ivory that at first they mistook for sewing bobbins. On closer inspection, they realized they were pieces of pawns.

And that's not all that's turning up at Montpelier; the site has several new offerings to Mr. Madison's presidential library just in time for today's festivities, including reproduction of the maps and globes that Madison examined centuries ago.

Sounds like the perfect Presidents' Day if you ask me.

Jason Lloyd Clement is an online content provider for PreservationNation.org. He will not be going anywhere close to a mall today.

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.

Ideas and Inspiration for America's Great Outdoors

Posted on: February 17th, 2011 by Jason Clement 1 Comment

 

America's great outdoors – case in point. Behold the Painted Hand Pueblo in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Cortez, Colorado.

“Americans are blessed with a vast and varied natural heritage. From mountains to deserts and from sea to shining sea, America's great outdoors have shaped the rugged independence and sense of community that define the American spirit. Today, however, we are losing touch with too many of the places and proud traditions that have helped to make America special.”  

Those were the words of President Barack Obama on April 16, 2010, the day he launched his America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. His goal was simple -- to start a nationwide brainstorming session about ways to reconnect Americans to the precious land that surrounds them. With sweeping camera shots and a let's-go-adventuring score, this video created by the Obama Administration to promote the effort says it all.  

The dialogue that ensued was energetic and inspiring. Throughout the summer, over 51 listening sessions were held around the country to not only discover what outdoor spaces and places are dear to Americans, but to encourage some light-bulb moments around how best to steward those places for future generations.  

All in all, over 10,000 people said their part in person (we know that more than a few members and supporters of the National Trust are included in that tally), and over 100,000 comments poured in over the Internet (even more preservationists participated online). 

Today, you can see what that conversation generated — a 173-page report (Americans have a lot to say) chock-full of ideas that was delivered to the President yesterday in a ceremony held at the White House.

While the full report is already available for download, preservationists will also be interested in the historic preservation fact sheet that was prepared as a supplement.  

National Trust President Stephanie Meeks has issued the following statement on the report and the recommendation that will be music to many preservationists' ears -- fully fund the Historic Preservation Fund.  

"We applaud the Obama Administration's thorough and extensive process that led to the America's Great Outdoors report, including a listening session in Philadelphia that spotlighted historic preservation’s important role in protecting our nation’s heritage. Encouraging Americans, especially young people, to get out and explore the nation’s natural, cultural, and historic resources is a laudable goal. By encouraging more Americans, in particular America’s youth, to become familiar with and learn skills to preserve the historic sites and cultural resources that define who we are as a nation, the America's Great Outdoors report will help to ensure that these important places are preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations."  

"The National Trust is especially pleased that the report recommends increased funding for the Historic Preservation Fund -- the nation’s only dedicated source of funding for preservation, including increased funding for State Historic Preservation Officers and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. We are also encouraged that the Administration recognized the importance of our American landscapes, which must be preserved and appreciated within their larger geographic, social, and historical contexts including traditional cultural landscapes and sacred landscapes important to Native peoples. Congress wisely gave the President the power to reserve “historic landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” through the Antiquities Act and we applaud the appropriate utilization of this critical tool to preserve our irreplaceable shared American heritage." 

Curious to see how President Obama received the recommendations? You can stream yesterday's White House event in its entirety below or read the transcript. Also, stay tuned -- more analysis is coming from our Public Policy Department.  

  

Jason Lloyd Clement is an online content provider for PreservationNation.org.

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.

Budget Day: A Live Blog

Posted on: February 14th, 2011 by Jason Clement 1 Comment

 

Today, the Obama Administration will submit its FY 2012 budget request to Congress -- the first step in the complex process of funding the federal government. This live blog will track minute-by-minute our analysis of the President's recommendations as they relate to historic preservation.

Who's ready to make a budget?

[ 9:02 a.m. ] An enormous pot of coffee is brewing here in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Public Policy Department, where I'll be coming at you live all day as we pick through the President's budget request. And as I pour myself a generous cup of ambition (the first of many, I anticipate), one thought crosses my mind: Why must we release the budget on Monday of all days?

[ 9:14 a.m. ] A few swigs in and my synapses have (thankfully) started firing. Let's kick this off with a quick look at how the federal budget is actually made. Like most things in Washington, forming the budget is a complicated, multi-step process -- ten of them according to this interactive infographic detailing the process. Click through each slide, and you'll quickly get a sense of how today is just the beginning.

[ 9:28 a.m. ] Thanks to the severe beating preservation funding took in last year's budget request, the general mood here is to be prepared for anything. That being said, this zinger from a New York Times article published this morning just gave me goosebumps -- in a bad way: "The budget reflects Mr. Obama’s cut-and-invest agenda: It creates winners and big losers as he proposes to slash spending in some domestic programs to both reduce deficits and make room for increases in education, infrastructure, clean energy, innovation and research to promote long-term economic growth and global competitiveness." Yikes.

[ 9:35 a.m. ] Now for a bit of housekeeping. The Office of Management and Budget will post the President's budget request at 10:30 a.m. EST. This will be the first time anyone here sees the document, so our analysis will follow in bits and pieces as we comb through, page by page. Now, who's ready for some budget jargon?

[ 9:52 a.m. ] The news is churning in full force over the budget this morning. This quote from a Wall Street Journal article foreshadows the drastic cuts we'll know more about shortly: "Mr. Obama's budget, to be released Monday, calls for spending cuts and tax hikes that would slice about 14% of the approximately $8 trillion in cumulative federal deficits that would occur over the next 10 years without action being taken. It estimates the deficit will fall to $1.1 trillion next year as the economy picks up and the president's proposed spending freeze begins to have effect."

[ 10:08 a.m. ] Overheard in the Public Policy Department: "Morning. You guys ready for war?"

[ 10:25 a.m. ] Five minutes and counting. While we wait, let's do a quick flashback to last year's budget request announcement, when Save America's Treasures -- the nation’s only bricks-and-mortar historic preservation grant program -- was quite surprisingly placed on the chopping block. That, my friends, made for a very bad day at the office.

[ 10:41 a.m. ] It's posted -- all 200-something pages of it. Let the games begin.

[ 10:56 a.m. ] Two words: Oh boy.

[ 10:58 a.m. ] Just got this e-mail from Pat Lally, the National Trust's director of congressional affairs: "Save America's Treasures and Preserve America eliminated. National Heritage Areas reduced."

[ 11:07 a.m. ] The justification language for the cuts to Save America's Treasures and Preserve America: "These historic preservation grants to non-Federal entities provide mostly local benefits and while there have been many high quality projects, at least half of Save America's Treasures projects are annually earmarked by Congress, without using merit-based criteria. These programs contribute to community and State-level historic preservation and heritage tourism efforts, but in a time of difficult trade-offs funding is being focused on nationwide historic preservation goals, such as increasing grants-in-aid to States and Tribes to carry out Federal responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act."

[ 11:12 a.m. ] Sustainable communities seem to have fared well. Direct from the budget: "The Budget sustains support for the multi-agency Partnership for Sustainable Communities, one of the pillars of the Administration’s place-based agenda. The Budget includes $150 million to create incentives for more communities to develop comprehensive housing and transportation plans that result in sustainable development, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and increased transit-accessible housing. This amount will allow more communities to achieve these purposes, in addition to the over 100 grants recently awarded across the country by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency."

[ 11:22 a.m. ] Note: There is a lot of really frantic highlighting going down right now. Must analyze!

[ 11:24 a.m. ] Some good news from Denise Ryan, the National Trust's program manager for public lands policy -- the Challenge Cost Share Account has been restored in the budget. Now, did your eyes just glaze over? Don't worry; I'm right there with you. Denise explains (as she highlights): "Last year, the Administration proposed zeroing out this program, but thanks to vigorous advocacy by the National Trust and partner organizations, the Administration reinstated the funding program, which provides funding to the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service to leverage private funding and program support from groups that share the agencies’ missions to preserve natural and cultural resources. These grants allow citizen volunteers, universities, and researchers to do thousands of stewardship projects on public lands and national trails that would not otherwise get done by the agencies. For example, the Friends of Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona leveraged scarce dollars with the Bureau of Land Management to stabilize, preserve, and interpret the historic Teskey Home Site on Agua Fria National Monument in the National Landscape Conservation System. The Friends groups leveraged $24,171 in Challenge Cost Share funds with a $27,000 match in volunteer hours to save the site from vandalism, off highway vehicle damage, shooting, and continued misuse by visitors.

[ 11:33 a.m. ] Some good news for battlefields -- the American Battlefield Protection Program has been level funded at $10,000,000. This program promotes the preservation of significant historic battlefields associated with wars on American soil.

[ 11:38 a.m. ] The White House has posted an interactive breakdown of the budget (scroll down to the bottom of the page to launch it). For us visual learners, this shows quite clearly where the money goes.

[ 11:45 a.m. ] At noon, the Public Policy Department will meet for a debrief -- and you're coming with me. Thank you, wireless connection.

[ 11:50 a.m. ] This article from Politico.com says it all: “This budget has a lot of pain,” said Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in an interview Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The budget, he said, is a step along the path toward true fiscal belt-tightening. It “does the job, it cuts the deficit in half by the end of the president’s first term.”

[ 12:09 p.m. ] War meeting is now underway. Snacks offered include popcorn, pistachios, and Tums. Classic -- and telling.

[ 12:12 p.m. ] Gut reaction of the group is that the justification statement (see entry at 11:07 a.m. for full text) for cutting Save America's Treasures generally shows a lack of understanding for the program and what it does -- just like last year. At around 2:00 p.m. this afternoon, there will be a meeting on the Hill where we might learn more beyond the paragraph already provided.

[ 12:17 p.m. ] A great point was just made: By cutting this federal funding, we also lose the opportunity for millions in private funds. Save America's Treasures' work with the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, NC is highly indicative -- a modest federal grant of $150,000 eventually became over $20 million thanks to matching funds.

[ 12:28 p.m. ] A chilling question was just asked: What if the House goes deeper? Because of their laser focus on reining in spending, it is very likely. Pass those Tums, please.

[ 12:34 p.m. ] Though there was a 23% cut in preservation funding across the board, some important line items saw a nominal increase, namely State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. That's a big deal in today's tough economic climate. I'll get those numbers for you in a bit.

[ 12:48 p.m. ] The big meeting just wrapped up. I ran after Pat Lally, our director of congressional affairs, when everyone broke and got his top five take-aways: 1) President Obama will fund the key accounts for historic preservation at $18 million below current levels; 2) Save America's Treasures and Preserve America have been eliminated, while funding for National Heritage Areas have been slashed in half; 3) State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers were given very nominal increases -- $4 million for states and $3 million for tribes; 4) While these increases are good news in this beyond tough budget climate, they are long overdue and come at the expense of a 23% overall reduction in preservation funding; 5) it must be said that our friends in arts and culture took a severe beating this morning.

[ 1:35 p.m. ] How about a video over lunch? Fork in mouth, I just stumbled on this clip of Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, explaining how the President's budget will help the government live within its means. The stand-out quote to me: "We need to get from a place that is just unsustainable to a place where we can pay our bills."

[ 1:51 p.m. ] Note: The interactive graphic I mentioned at 11:38 a.m. has seemingly been co-opted and perfected by the good folks over at the New York Times. Check it out.

[ 2:24 p.m. ] The Department of the Interior budget in brief was just posted. This document summarizes and highlights the programs of the Department of the Interior as mentioned in the President’s budget request. The Public Policy folks are scanning it as I type.

[ 2:32 p.m. ] Big, big bump for cultural resources -- to the tune of many millions. Here's the blurb direct from the budget in brief: "The $7.9 million non-National Landscape Conservation System increase in cultural resources management will enhance the capacity of that program to preserve and protect cultural, historical, and paleontological resources. The Bureau of Land Management will accelerate progress in conducting surveys; stabilizing and restoring sites; expanding interpretive ac­tivities; and increasing outreach and partnership-building efforts to promote public investment in the management of the Nation’s cultural resources. The $15.0 million increase for the National Landscape Conservation System will address a range of priorities in these special units, including implementing resource management plans and conducting natural resource assessment, inventory, monitoring, and mitigation ac­tivities. This funding increase is allocated to benefit all categories of the National Landscape Conservation System."

[ 2:37 p.m. ] There's a pretty intense press conference on speaker phone right now, which opened with a zinger (which I'm paraphrasing): Tough decisions have been made to make this country competitive again.

[ 2:45 p.m. ] Good news for America’s Conservation Lands (again from the budget in brief): "The $15.0 million increase for the National Landscape Conservation System will address a range of priorities in these special units, including implementing resource management plans, and conducting natural resource assessment, inventory, monitoring, and mitigation ac­tivities. This funding increase is allocated to benefit all categories of the National Landscape Conservation System."

[ 2:50 p.m. ] Wow, a very important nuance regarding Save America's Treasures was just discovered in the budget in brief and then shouted over my cube wall: "Funding is not requested for Save America’s Treasures grants, which has contributed to community and state level historic preservation but will be reevaluated for the program’s contributions to national preservation efforts. This provides a savings of $25.0 million." Very interesting.

[ 4:10 p.m. ] Sorry for the radio silence, folks. It has been a busy hour (and some change). There's been a lot of chatter here today about the justification statement (scroll up to my entry at 11:07 a.m.) given for eliminating Save America's Treasures. I just got a note from Fiona Lawless, program manager for Save America's Treasures at the National Trust, with this explanation: "The budget justification to eliminate Save America’s Treasures claims it only supports local and state preservation efforts, and not national preservation goals. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Save America’s Treasures has a 12-year proven track record of successfully preserving our country’s iconic historic sites and collections, including providing more than $30 million to restore the cultural resources within our national parks. In fact, just to qualify for these very competitive grants, a project must be nationally significant. Save America’s Treasures is a model public/private partnership in which the federal government’s leadership leverages private matching investment, inspiring citizens, local businesses, and city and state governments to join in the shared responsibility of preserving our historic and cultural patrimony.  The elimination of Save America’s Treasures demonstrates a lack of understanding of historic preservation’s important role in creating jobs, attracting heritage tourism dollars, and spurring the economic revitalization of our downtowns."

[ 4:36 p.m. ] Regarding arts and culture (mentioned earlier has also having a bad day), here are some numbers: Both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities saw $22 million in cuts. Both were at $168 million for 2010, and are now proposed at $146 million in the President's budget request.

[ 5:06 p.m. ] That's a wrap for today. We'll be back very soon with more information and analysis about how today's budget recommendations affect historic preservation. Thank you for following.

Jason Lloyd Clement is an online content provider for PreservationNation.org. He always gets really worked up during live blogs.

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.

Preservation Round-Up: The Budget Mania Edition

Posted on: February 11th, 2011 by Jason Clement

 

The budget is coming! The budget is coming! The budget is coming!

Well folks, Monday's the day.

At around 10:00 a.m. EST, we're expecting President Barack Obama's much-anticipated (read: widely-dreaded) budget request to drop on the Internet. That little jargon-laden PDF courtesy of the Office of Management and Budget will be step one in -- as one republican lawmaker put it -- the "largest set of spending cuts in the history of our nation."

Yeesh, that's a lot for a Monday morning.

However, the idea that the president's FY 2012 budget proposal could be yet another heart-stopper for us preservationists (quick: flashback to last February) should come as no surprise; for weeks, drafts of the administration's drastic recommendations have been bouncing around Washington like a bull in china shop. Late January was fairly emblematic of how this was shaking down. Even as $14 million in Save America's Treasures grants were announced at President Lincoln's Cottage, the program's fate in the work-in-progress budget was changing daily/hourly: It's in. Now it's out. Back in. Nope, out again.

This article does a nice job of summing up the fact that, for two years now, preservation funding has become quite familiar with all the nooks and crannies of the budgetary chopping block. I especially like this zinger from Nancy Schamu, executive director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers:

The fact that the two programs [Save America's Treasures and Preserve America] are fighting for their survival is especially ironic, considering the $29.6 allotted to them is a pittance of the overall federal budget. Nancy Schamu, executive director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, tells FedWatch she doesn’t know why preservation funding is being targeted, especially since it’s basically “decimal dust” in the grand scheme of things. “That’s something you’ll have to ask the bill drafters,” she says.

And sadly, the bad news isn't just at the federal level -- it's budget mania everywhere! Perhaps you've heard news from the Lone Star State, where Governor Rick Perry has proposed yanking funding for both the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Commission on the Arts. Needless to say, only the word "draconian" is excited by the announcement, as it now has a new use-that-in-a-complete-sentence option for the dictionary. This great editorial makes a case against the cuts using the state's lauded courthouse restoration program as a poster child for preservation:

Consider the commission's highly successful Historic Courthouse Restoration Program. Initiated by Gov. George W. Bush in 1999, it provides grants to counties to restore their historic courthouses, gives new life to commercial districts and creates skilled, local jobs in the construction industry. Stan Graves, the program's director, says, "The Courthouse Restoration Program plants the seed for recovery in communities across Texas." Studies show that $1 million spent on rehabilitation of historic properties yields more local construction jobs, as well as more local income and retail sales, than new construction. In 12 years, the courthouse program has created 5,800 Texas jobs and nearly $40 million in state and local tax revenue. The proposed budgets eliminate this invaluable investment in our local economies.

The kicker? Just this week, Preservation Texas unveiled its latest endangered list, which includes this gem in Lubbock. As someone who bleeds orange and chokes up over bluebonnets, my fingers are crossed for you, Texas.

... Read More →

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.

Preservation Round-Up: The Keep Detroit Beautiful Edition

Posted on: February 7th, 2011 by Jason Clement 16 Comments

 

What was your reaction to Chrysler's "Imported From Detroit" Super Bowl spot?

Last night, at approximately 9:03 p.m. EST, Super Bowl XLV changed for me -- big time.

First, a disclaimer: Unlike my colleague who just tweeted "Only three months to wait for the 2011 NFL schedule announcement," I am not a pro football fanatic. However, I do appreciate the Super Bowl for three reasons: 1) no-holds-barred eating and/or chip dipping, 2) the pre-game and half-time pageantry, and 3) the Brand Bowl.

Another disclaimer: I majored in advertising. And though I decided very early on that I wanted to do something with a soul rather than sell diapers on prime time, I still have a soft spot for smart communication that works (for the brand) and rewards (for the consumer). Unfortunately, that very rarely happens on Super Bowl night. Yes, the commercials are high of hype and humor, but to me they represent advertising at its most basic -- and oftentimes egregious -- form. Think about it: People who are covered in Dorito crumbs and on their second or third beer don't necessarily want deep and thoughtful. They want monkeys, awkward work situations, and men dressed as women.

However, every once in a while, a really great spot shatters this mold, eliciting in living rooms everywhere a momentary pause in chip consumption and a long "Duuuuuuude." Apple's legendary (well, among advertising nerds anyway) 1984 spot is an example. It dropped like a bomb during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII, and continued to win awards up until 2007. I remember watching it in one of my classes and thinking, "Wow, this is why I want to do this."

Now, back to last night. During the third quarter (coincidence?), Chrysler managed -- in just two minutes -- to make me cry, think, feel proud, question my Toyota, and want to hug the entire city of Detroit while screaming the lyrics to I'm Proud to Be an American. That roller coaster of emotion aside, the spot also managed to reaffirm my values and beliefs as a preservationist. File under "Things I Never Expected From A Car Commercial."

Let me be upfront: I realize this is not a commercial about historic preservation. And whether or not Chrysler genuinely loves Detroit and its struggling stock of historic treasures is irrelevant because, at the end of the day, they have a very clear bottom line: Sell cars. I get it. However, in my eyes, the ad clearly linked preservation to progress -- to the rebirth of a city that "has been to Hell and back." The screen capture of Eminem in front of the restored and insanely gorgeous Fox Theater with "Keep Detroit Beautiful" glowing on the marquee says it all. Cue the choir (of course there was a choir!) and you've got water works.

Other than the "Imported From Detroit" tag line, which succeeded in igniting every competitive urge in my body, I also found the overall look and feel of the commercial to be deeply moving. For me, it showed that cities are alive -- and can die. And the juxtaposition of progress and the city's real but often sensationalized ruins was beyond poignant. Yes, moving inventory is critical to Detroit's recovery, but so is historic preservation.

Moments after it aired (and when I was able to rid my fingers of Dorito dust), we shared a link to the video on the National Trust's Facebook and Twitter accounts. For the round-up portion of this round-up, I'd like to spotlight some of the comments shared there and in other corners of the Internet.

First to Facebook and Twitter:

Jill S. Thomsen: The commercial was for a City. It presented a City as a living, breathing thing - which it is, but not 'everyone' sees that. For this reason it was my fav of the night - insight is good for all!

@BlackFinnRO: In a stunning turn of events Detroit wins Super Bowl XLV #Eminem #Chrysler #ImportedFromDetroit

Gary Gilmore: There's no preservation here. Detroit could care less about preserving anything. I know, I work in a historic building that would have been razed, and the city did little, if anything, to lend a hand in saving it.

@KrisColvin: Commercials that are funny amuse us, but those that *mean* something to you can change lives. That to me, is a good ad. #brandbowl #chrysler

Amanda Smith: No one is claiming Detroit's government is full of preservationists. Detroit needs people who are excited and passionate about making it a better place. If a commercial like this can get people talking, it's a start.

@graphicalchela: ok #chrysler, where are the IMPORTED FROM DETROIT t-shirts? i need a dozen....

Beth McMullen: That commercial for many was less about the car they were selling and more about shaping a community identity based on pride and the preservation of those buildings and places that represent Detroit's rich if sometimes difficult history. The places that make it truly unique.

In a story posted at 5:14 this morning, the Detroit Free Press posed a great question to folks outside of Michigan: Does this commercial change your perception of us? Some of the responses:

You know the "IMPORTED FROM DETROIT" can really become a great theme for Detroit if marketed the right way.

I live in Pittsburgh and watched as a room full of people stopped what they were doing to watch the ad. When it was over someone in the room simply said "wow"... I think that sums it up. Nice ad Detroit!

I thought the commercial was excellent! Showed the grittiness of Detroit and then nicely transitioned from smokestacks to Campus Martius and the Fox Theatre and the choir. With Eminem keeping the edginess throughout, it said -- the city is tough, the car is tough.

In another story posted even earlier this morning, the same paper asked a question exclusively for locals: Did you feel it?

Detroit still has a long way to go, however, great commercial and I "felt" it as well! Eminem definitely represents his city well when it comes to entertainment.

The question that popped in my head was what do they mean by Detroit? The city? The auto industry? Its people? Therein lay the brilliance of the ad - it didn't portray Detroit as a place, but as an attitude. And it's attitude that will determine what happens to this city. Do not underestimate this place.

It was an effective ad for Fiat/Chrysler but let's not get too excited folks. Motown has a long, long, long way to go. The video was dark and foreboding as was intended but that is the reality of Detroit.

However, the commercial didn't just make headlines in Detroit. This post from the Los Angeles Times offers a great note to end on:

In a way, it's also more than a message about Detroit. As BMW also showed in an ad featuring the plant making its X3 model, it's honoring a time when America was about making things -- real, hulking tangible pieces of machinery. It stood in contrast to the rest of the ads for things we click on, things made far, far away, things created by people sitting behind a desk (not that there's anything wrong with that). Chrysler seems to say that Detroit isn't dead, and maybe the spirit of Americans making things isn't dead either.

I couldn't agree more. Americans are capable of making -- and saving -- great things.

Let's do this.

Jason Lloyd Clement is an online content provider for PreservationNation.org. He doesn't want to be another person who has never been to Detroit.

The Preservation Round-Up is the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s twice-weekly digest of preservation news and notes from around the country. Got any tips? Shoot us a link on Twitter or Facebook.

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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.