Making Change — Guest Post by "Story of Stuff" Creator Annie Leonard

Posted on: August 17th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments


Annie Leonard is the director of the Story of Stuff Project and author of The Story of Stuff. The Story of Stuff has generated over 15 million views in more than 200 countries and territories since its launch, making it one of the most successful environmental-themed viral films of all time. Annie will be speaking at the opening plenary session of the National Preservation Conference on Wednesday, October 31.

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. Seems like everyone, on every side of the political spectrum, is calling for change. It’s the topic of the relentless campaign ads leading up to the November election. The number one question we get from the thousands of our movie viewers who write to us is “how can I make change?” There’s so much interest in making change that we decided to tackle the topic head on with our most recent movie, The Story of Change. This latest film explains the three things needed to make change: a good idea of how things could be better, a commitment to work together, and engaged citizens taking action.

While making change requires a forward thinking perspective, it doesn’t require turning our back on the past. In fact, the best type of change is built on foundations of the past -- both the intellectual foundation and the built foundation.  Clearly our ideas about how to run an economy need change; the current model just isn’t working for the majority of the world’s people or for the overstressed planet. But rather than write off the past completely and risk repeating familiar mistakes, let’s study the past and glean lessons about what has and what hasn’t worked. And then let’s keep striving to do things better. The same goes for our built environment. We’ve learned much in recent decades about designing buildings and whole cities to nurture healthy people, healthy communities and a healthy environment. In some cases, positive change does mean humbly scraping past mistakes and building anew. Other times it means preserving and holding dear the buildings and spaces in which our society has developed  to date.

In this moment of political stuckness, I’m often asked if I still think change is possible. Change is more than possible; it’s inevitable. Right now, we’re using more resources than the planet can regenerate and creating more waste than it can assimilate. Sheer physical limits dictate that we can’t continue on this trajectory indefinitely. So the question is not if we’ll change, but how. Will we change by design, or by disaster? Either way, change is coming. If we chose to change by design, it is going to be hard work ahead, but we can be so much more strategic and intelligent about making that change. If we dig our heels in, refusing to critically assess where we’re headed and to start designing a better way forward, we’ll still change, but it will be a whole lot harder and uglier.

I’m convinced that we have what it takes to change by design. We have visionary thinkers and builders and communicators. We have innovative new technologies to meet human needs without trashing the planet. We have a rich history of citizens working together to solve big problems.

Preserving the best of the past while aiming high for a healthy, sustainable and just future, we can make change together. I look forward to meeting you at the National Preservation Conference in Spokane this fall to explore more about making change and building a better future for all.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Learning Spokane’s History One Field Trip at a Time

Posted on: August 15th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 1 Comment


The Grand Coulee Dam on Washington's Columbia River.

Field trips might have been my number one favorite thing growing up. It was school, but not school. Learning without a blackboard and desk. Travel without parents -- unless you were the kid who ended up with a parent as a chaperone.

Sometimes it was a science museum, other times trips to Lexington and Concord, or Colonial Williamsburg -- but always it involved learning through place.

As adults we still experience that thrill, it’s a little less structured (after all, we are our own chaperones), but there is still that sense of experiencing a place by exploring.

Somehow this has become the year of travel for me -- and once I come back from New Mexico next week it’ll be full steam ahead for the Pacific Northwest where I will be attending the National Preservation Conference  at the end of October, probably my last “field trip” for the year.

Here are a few of my preconceptions:

  1. Spokane is going to be beautiful.
  2. The area has an incredibly rich and varied Native American history.
  3. Washington is one of the states on the forefront of energy development and sustainability

For a preservationist this leads naturally to some exciting field trip possibilities. For example, I know that one field session (called “Hot Dam!”) will take attendees to the Grand Coulee Dam. One of the largest electric power-producing facilities, the tour will go behind the scenes of this industrial site, offering a glimpse of water power in the Northwest.  I didn’t know I would love industrial heritage until I stepped onto the site of an abandoned mill and experienced what some call "the technological sublime" (so massive it's awe-inspiring). Having never been to the Hoover Dam, this trip feels like a great opportunity.

Or, if I want a personalized tour of the American Indian Archives at the Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC) I’m going to hop on the bus for “A Coyote in the Henhouse.”  This isn’t the only opportunity to learn about native culture at the conference (we’re having a Pow Wow on Thursday night), but I’m excited at the possibility of seeing so many objects not on public display.

And then for those of us who love green building, multiple field trips that will let you see “Sustainability in Action," with unparalleled access to award-winning preservation and LEED certified buildings.

What can we learn about Spokane through field trips such as these? On one hand there's a multi-faceted view of the city: a sense of the industrial past and present, the Native American heritage, and the commitment of the preservation community to preserving green. In melding all of these trips together we’ll experience more than just a conference center, rather we'll get a broader sense of place for the Pacific and Inland Northwest.

Are you attending the National Preservation Conference? Learn more about great field sessions on our Staff Picks page!

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.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.


Nikki Giovanni is a widely-read American poet, equality activist, professor of English at Virginia Tech, and the keynote speaker at this week's National Rosenwald Schools Conference. Built over the past 45 years, her collection of poetry is some of the most influential on issues of black American culture and experience.

We are excited for her to lend her voice to the issue of preserving the Rosenwald Schools -- the 4,977 mostly humble buildings paid for by businessman-turned-philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and built by community members throughout 15 states between 1912 and 1932, specifically to educate black children.

Left: A Mural of Giovanni's "Revolutionary Dreams" poem on 113th Street in Los Angeles.

I had the opportunity to ask Nikki Giovanni some questions leading up to her time at the conference. Take a look below, then tune in on Twitter on Saturday, June 16, at 10:30 a.m. CDT, where we'll live-tweet her plenary session from our @PresNationLive account.

What were your first feelings or takeaways after learning about the history of the Rosenwald Schools?

As a history major at Fisk University I was, of course, aware of the Rosenwald Schools and their marvelous history.  I remember thinking how wonderful that people reached out to help the newly freed folk who had the desire and the talent but were not given the tools.  I consider the Rosenwald schools right up there with the Carnegie Libraries:  something needed to help those who had been denied not just an education but a personhood to begin to emerge from the shadows.

What do you find most compelling about the schools?

The most compelling aspect is still the correct reason: a people without access to education cannot go forward.  The Sears/Roebuck family [Julius Rosenwald was the president of Sears until 1924] were terrific partners as many in the black community felt that Roebuck was a black American and was simply giving back to those who had helped him.

The Rosenwald Schools are important, but off the radar for many Americans. What actions do you think would better get them into the public eye?

A lot of black history is off radar, as is a lot of white history.  Why do we have classic films of gangsters but not union workers?  Why does every kid in America know Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Billy the Kid and any other robber and thief but not A. Phillip Randolph and the great story of the Pullman Porters? The only cure for ignorance and hatred is education and truth.  Words are as meaningful as places.

Who or what do you hope the Rosenwald Schools inspire?

I hope these schools remind us what our ancestors have endured to bring us this far.  It has been a good journey, but we still have a ways to go.

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.


“After 30 years, we are an overnight success.”

That’s how Randy Hemann, the executive director of Downtown Salisbury, Inc. in North Carolina, summed up his downtown’s road to revitalization. All heads nodded in agreement with him at the Advisor-sponsored “Preservation as an Economic Engine” session because they knew that the hallmark of a Main Street program is a steady pace of incremental improvements and achievements.

The Montgomery Ward Building on Salisbury, North Carolina's Main Street. (Photo: lumierefl on Flickr)

As Heritage Ohio said on Twitter:

That was a common thread during the 2012 National Main Streets Conference. Randy shared stunning comparisons of the number of jobs created per acre for a big-box store outside of his downtown -- 13.3 jobs per acre -- against 155 jobs per acre on Main Street. When you rehab a typical two-to-three story, mixed-use historic building, the density works favorably for your local economy and job creation. Simply put, the Main Street concept works. ... 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.

Andrea Dono

Andrea Dono is the program manager of research and training at the National Trust Main Street Center. She helps guide the educational content for the National Main Streets Conference as well as tracks revitalization trends, develops case studies, and helps produce Main Street Now.


Written by Kristen Griffin

A reference to historic districts in the music video for country singer Alan Jackson's "Little Man" caught my attention one night. In the video, Alan Jackson drives through small town business districts and sings "boarded up like they never existed, or renovated and called historic districts."

To be fair, it was kind of a throwaway line in an otherwise well-messaged song. Jackson drives home the point that we are losing something culturally important when we lose small towns and local businesses to chain and suburban-style development. But the implication that business and renovated historic districts are mutually exclusive made no sense to me. My experience with historic districts is just the opposite.

Historic districts make up half of Spokane, Washington’s core downtown business district. I started to make a mental list of all the times I walk across the threshold of a historic building to do business in a historic store, restaurant, hotel, office building, or theater. Not only do I work in a historic building, but I mail my packages in a historic building, go to the gym in a historic building, buy my books in a historic building, and get my hair cut in a historic building. My accountant is in a historic building, the newspapers I read are published in historic buildings, and my favorite coffee is roasted in a historic building. The list goes on.

Downtown Spokane. (Photo: Bryan Gosline on Flickr)

Last year for fun, and to demonstrate how deeply the historic buildings and districts in Spokane are integrated into the local economy, I impulsively committed for the month of April to try to find everything I needed in businesses located in historic buildings or within historic districts.... Read More →

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Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at

From Protests to Distilleries: Our Top 10 Blog Stories of 2011

Posted on: December 30th, 2011 by David Garber


2011, we hardly knew ye. And yet, as usual, you flooded us with stories from across the country relating to our interactions and efforts surrounding America's historic places. We like this list because it shows us the type of content that really caught your attention: national news, endangered places, interviews, and a mix of geographies, building styles, and even boats.

Yet as we say goodbye to 2011, we are very much looking forward to 2012. We'll be doing more on-the-ground reporting, more interviews with locals from around the country, and adding in a few features this blog hasn't seen before. And remember, if you have stories you think could be great blog fodder, send them our way via our new inbox.

And so, without further ado, our Top 10 Blog Stories of 2011:

1. Demonstrators Treating Historic Wisconsin State Capitol with Care and Respect

"Political differences catalyzing the demonstrations are far from resolved and large crowds continue to gather at the building, but demonstrators have shown reverence for the state house as the gathering place of democracy is Wisconsin, and show no signs of resorting to symbolic attacks on it."

2. Let These Not Be Lost: America’s 2011 Most Endangered Historic Places

"The unveiling of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places is always a bittersweet moment. The list is a culmination of hundreds of hours of hard work by hundreds of people, and it becomes a new rallying cry for supporters of incredibly important – yet unfortunately threatened – sites nationwide. But the fact that the list even exists means that there’s a lot more work to be done."

3. We Have A Winner! The 2011 Dozen Distinctive Destinations Fan Favorite Is…

"What I kept wondering was this—how did Paducah become this vibrant town that would have a chance of being one of a Dozen Distinctive Destinations? I think the answer boils down to this: they knew what they had (good bones of a historic downtown, the human resources to restore it and a feeling of community); they knew what they wanted (economic prosperity, the arts, and something to “sell” that would be an asset to the town, not a detriment); and, the will and knowledge to promote what they built over time."

4. Interview: Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Little Gem” Up for Auction

"Accessibility discussions usually seem to center around ways to retrofit historic properties to better accommodate people of all abilities. Why? Because it’s an issue that still needs to be addressed at historic places all across the country that weren’t originally designed with universal accessibility in mind. ... It’s far less often that we come across old and historic buildings that were accessible from their start."

5. Main Street Round-Up: Walkable Vegetables Edition

"A busy intersection in the Lauraville neighborhood [in Baltimore] has been transformed into a flat billboard of sorts celebrating locally grown foods and the district’s weekly farmers market. By painting large, eye-catching vegetables on the asphalt at the intersection, community leaders hope to calm traffic, beautify a major commuting corridor and stir up local pride and participation in the neighborhood."

6. Confronting the Confederacy in Interpreting a Historic Home 

"In 2005 I purchased a home built in the early 1880’s by Henry Martyn Stringfellow, a former confederate soldier. Being a preservationist I frequently open my home in Hitchcock, Texas to the public. I struggle with whether my interpretation of the site should acknowledge his role in the Confederacy or just avoid telling that part of his story."

7. USS Olympia Remains Afloat, but Repairs are Needed 

"In her nearly 120 years of existence, USS Olympia has shown herself to be a resilient survivor. Today, the world’s oldest steel-hulled warship afloat remains afloat. She rises and falls with the tides of the Delaware River, along whose shores she is moored in Philadelphia, resting at low tide on the riverbed. It is at these times that the damage below her waterline is exposed."

8. Laredo’s Legacy: Preserving the El Cuatro Barrio 

"Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the United States. For more than 440 years they have contributed to building the culture and society of all the American South, from Florida to California. The Hispanic experience in South Texas specifically is 260 years old, and this legacy of multiple generations of Spanish-descent families has created a rich culture and conserved those sites and towns that reflect their heritage."

9. Catch National Preservation Conference Highlights Online 

"Ah, the joy of the Interwebz — allowing us to connect across the miles and delve deeper into our shared love of preservation at the National Preservation Conference! Though we much prefer to have you see the Nickel City for yourself, we understand if you couldn’t make it in person this year, and we still want you to be involved from your corner of the world."

10. A Spirited Comeback 

"Over the past several years, the visible decline of the Detroit area – from the city itself to the smaller towns that surround it – has caught the nation’s imagination. With image after haunting image of ghostly vacant blocks and countless gloomy editorials, sometimes it seems like the media has already written the region off. However, amidst the rubble of times past, a new breed of locally-minded, dedicated entrepreneurs has decided it’s time to give southeastern Michigan new life."

David Garber is the blog editor at 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.