saginaw-rightsizing

Building Community When the Community is Shrinking

Posted on: June 23rd, 2011 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Brenna Moloney

A colorful Jazz on Jefferson banner beckons passersby in to the beautifully landscaped side yard of one of Saginaw Central City Historic District's most iconic buildings.

Recently, on an unusually hot night in early June, the streets of the Central Saginaw City Historic District suddenly sprang to life. All along Jefferson Avenue, families mingled and music played at the feet of some of Saginaw’s most beautiful historic homes. For a brief moment it was easy to forget that many of these homes are empty and have been for a very long time. It was easy to forget that some of them have been stripped and that this neighborhood and this city have seen better times.

What brought everyone to the Historic District and Neighborhood Stabilization Program target zone was Jazz on Jefferson, an annual event coordinated by the South Jefferson Avenue Events and Marketing Committee. Jazz on Jefferson seeks to promote the area as culturally important and a unique urban environment. In addition to local musicians, there are food and drink tents (much of if complimentary), booths with information from local non-profits, a small car show, and tours of houses and their gardens.

Many of the historic homes and gardens on Jefferson Avenue are open to the public during the event. In addition, vacant houses and lots host music and refreshment venues, dispelling the fear and injecting a sense of hopefulness in to the struggling district. In the background is the currently vacant Hill House.

These types of community building activities are critical to shrinking cities for a number of reasons, and they should be cultivated and encouraged - not only by preservationists - but by planners and city leaders. Events like Jazz on Jefferson draw people into the streets to experience their city. They also serve to “rally the troops” and buoy the spirits of those living in a shrinking neighborhood and city. The Central Saginaw City Historic District is located on the East side of the Saginaw River and is often maligned as the dangerous part of town. Jazz on Jefferson has become a dual statement by the neighborhood. First, it is safe to come here and second, fear will not rule or define it.

I am touched every time I visit with people from the Central Saginaw City Historic District because the love of their neighborhood is so deep and so apparent. For them, Jazz on Jefferson is a time to celebrate and share their community with the rest of Saginaw. Neighborhood events like Jazz on Jefferson in a shrinking city are also an effort at placemaking and redefinition. All communities are enriched by these events but they are especially important in cities experiencing rightsizing because they are a way to celebrate our sense of place and the historic character of our neighborhoods.

Check out this great promotional video for this year's Jazz on Jefferson to get a feel for what it was like:

Brenna Moloney is a  preservation specialist for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network in Saginaw, Michigan. She advises city and county employees on historic preservation, and works to educate the community on the importance and benefits of historic preservation by strengthening their Historic District Commission, offering workshops, and by starting a community advocacy group. Her employment was made possible through a grant from the Americana Foundation. Brenna will be blogging here about her experiences in Saginaw. Read her earlier posts on right-sizing.

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.

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Written by Brenna Moloney

Last week I participated in a live-chat on rightsizing for the National Trust Forum with Brad White, a member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and Royce Yeater, director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Midwest office. One of the questions brought up in the course of our discussion concerned the role of the Section 106 process in rightsizing. For those unfamiliar with government regulation, the term Section 106 refers to the section of the National Historic Preservation Act that requires federal agencies to take into account the effects that their federally-funded activities and programs have on significant historic properties. This review is conducted by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in conjunction with the National Park Service. Here in Saginaw, Michigan, where serious rightsizing efforts are underway, this means that every federally funded demolition, rehab, or in-fill project must first be evaluated by staff at Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Office before proceeding.

A row of houses in the Central Saginaw Historic District. (Photo: Brenna Moloney)

As we mentioned briefly in the rightsizing chat, the Section 106 process allows preservationists to have some level of control over the direction and tempo of rightsizing practices. I think it would be a grave mistake if we think about the SHPO’s role as being limited solely to regulation. While it is true that having a field representative such as myself on the ground doing the day-to-day work is important, it is equally vital for a rightsizing community to tap the vast resources of their State Historic Preservation Office. In the Michigan SHPO alone there are architects, historians, planners, an archeologist, a GIS expert, a geographer, weatherization specialists, cultural resource managers, and on and on, all working in service to the state’s historic resources! My job then, is not so much being an expert myself, but in connecting Saginaw to this expertise.

Fortunately, I have been able to establish a close relationship with Michigan’s SHPO staff through several cooperative projects. As reported in previous posts, I’ve worked with SHPO staff to re-evaluate and map existing and potential historic districts and prioritize historic rehabs in target areas. Over the past several weeks, I have relied heavily on SHPO to help the Saginaw Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) staff and contractors develop specifications for rehabilitation projects on historic buildings. Of the fourteen rehab projects being undertaken in the current round of funding, four of these are contributing structures in two historic districts. The rehab specs for these properties will integrate Energy Star efficiency and lead safety requirements with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. Additionally, they will provide affordable, safe and aesthetically pleasing housing near Saginaw’s city center and will hopefully contribute to a revival of the area. These historic properties will serve as a model for future projects in Saginaw and elsewhere. None of the specification requirements or preservation goals could have been achieved with out SHPO expertise on regulation, building materials, and technology.

In addition to specific projects, I remain in weekly contact with SHPO staff to address any questions that I or community members might have. This has also smoothed the regulatory relationship because it allows problems to be headed off before becoming a serious issue. By communicating regularly and coordinating projects with their office, SHPO is also kept informed of the preservation activity happening in Saginaw and has created a high level of staff investment in Saginaw’s activities.

Many members of the public and at the local government level are unaware of the resources available to them, so I consider it an obligation of my position to connect them to the SHPO, and to other non-profit preservation organizations like the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This allows for efficient government functioning, educated decisions about historic resources, and a voice for the culture of the community. If preservationists are to involve themselves in the rightsizing process effectively, this role as a conduit of communication is essential. When this happens, everyone can win.

Brenna Moloney is a  preservation specialist for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network in Saginaw, Michigan. She advises city and county employees on historic preservation, and works to educate the community on the importance and benefits of historic preservation by strengthening their Historic District Commission, offering workshops, and by starting a community advocacy group. Her employment was made possible through a grant from the Americana Foundation. Brenna will be blogging here about her experiences in Saginaw. Read her earlier posts on right-sizing.

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.

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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 editorial@savingplaces.org.

What is Rightsizing Anyway?

Posted on: May 6th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Priya Chhaya

A few months ago Planet Money on NPR ran a story about Youngstown, Ohio, a city in the rust belt of America that has been working to save its city through the process of “rightsizing.” As a result Forum members conversed about the role of preservation in this conversation as other cities look to rightsizing as a means of dealing with abandoned buildings.

Next Tuesday, Forum members will have an opportunity to discuss the role of preservationists in the conversation, but I asked Royce Yeater, the director of the Midwest office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to answer a few basic questions about the issue:

What is “Rightsizing” anyway?

Saginaw, Michigan's empty train depot.

Saginaw, Michigan's empty train depot.

“Rightsizing” is the practice of shrinking a city to a more manageable footprint and infrastructure in response to sustained population loss by demolishing vacant and abandoned property and curtailing services in neighborhoods beyond redemption, to concentrate investment in other neighborhoods through rehabilitation and new construction.

How are historic properties being affected?

Research suggests there may be more stability and thus less impact in some historically designated districts, but still some historic districts neighborhoods are so heavily impacted that they are being slated for clearance. The general impact on all “older and historic” housing is severe, and particularly so in neighborhoods that once may have had character worthy of historic district designation, but where the loss of integrity has eroded that potential. The greatest impact is on working class neighborhoods from the early 20th century, but some high quality “manager” neighborhoods from the 19teens and 20s are also suffering from abandonment. The abiding glut of real estate is undermining the value of all properties, designated or not, discouraging all maintenance and reinvestment.

When neighborhood populations plummet, it also affects related institutional and commercial property, leaving many churches, schools, and neighborhood retail nodes vacant and abandoned. In many communities, the preservation infrastructure – historic preservation commissions and non-profit advocacy organizations – have been undermined by the loss of population and funding, along with a general malaise that erodes the spirit to fight on.

What can preservationists do about it?

A neighborhood in Saginaw, Michigan.

A neighborhood in Saginaw, Michigan.

Tune in and speak out, but first do the research and visit impacted communities to get educated on the scale and scope of the problem. 40,000 vacant properties in Detroit is different than a few hundred. When any realistic prospect of a community roaring back in the next 30 years is unlikely, mothballing may not work. Rehabilitation assumes there is someone to buy the property when rehab is complete and that is often not the case, and if it is, market value comes nowhere near cost, leaving a huge gap for any community development agency to swallow. Still, by focusing rehabilitation on the best neighborhoods – those with solid and once attractive housing and other amenities – and by letting go of lesser areas to concentrate resources and rehab, preservationists can be a voice for rightsizing that results in quality places to live with historic character, cultural identity, and market viability. To do that, we must argue for a plan that considers historic significance and potential as an asset, and then we must get behind that plan to help make it happen

What are some places where preservationists can get more information about rightsizing?

The media is filled with stories about rightsizing, since the concept of shrinking a city is seen as novel. Many planning and community development organizations and agencies are also focused on the issue. Nationally, leadership is coming from the Center for Community Progress, a new non-profit organization based in Washington DC, to coordinate and encourage state policies that expedite the process of gaining public control of abandoned property and then planning and implementing both clearance and revitalization strategies.

***

Are you a Forum member? You can continue this conversation next Tuesday during  the Forum online chat, where Royce Yeater will be joined by Brenna Moloney of the Michigan Historic Preservation, and Bradford White, principal of Brad White & Associates (and a member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation) at 2 pm. For additional information on Rightsizing check out Brenna’s blog series here on PreservationNation, and this OpEd by former  National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe.

Priya Chhaya is a program associate in the Center for Preservation Leadership 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.

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.

Training Creates Partners in Rehabilitation and Right-Sizing

Posted on: April 21st, 2011 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

Written by Brenna Moloney

One of the houses to be rehabilitated using the current round of Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding.

One of the houses to be rehabilitated using the current round of Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding.

One of the greatest challenges to aging, former industrial cities is in figuring out what to do with their aging housing stock. As cities implement right-sizing plans, they will inevitably have to struggle with this question. The issues that compound this problem are legion: a lack of contractors and builders familiar with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, a lack of labor skilled in work like window restoration, and an ever-fluctuating series of federal and state regulations, which, while beneficial in some respects, may cause problems for people attempting to rehab buildings using federal funds.

In Saginaw, we are attempting to address these issues as best we can. One way that I have tried to assist the city in integrating the rehab of historical buildings into the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) and address these specific issues has been to set up training opportunities for local contractors. Last Monday, training was held at the NSP offices for more than 10 contractors and their employees.

Michigan State Historic Preservation Office architect Robb McKay led the training, which was divided in two sections. The first part was a classroom setting. Robb covered each of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, defined the terms used by the Secretary of the Interior, and then used real examples from other Michigan cities that alternately embodied or disregarded the standards.

Robb McKay describes window restoration on the tour of Neighborhood Stabilization Program houses.

Robb McKay describes window restoration on the tour of Neighborhood Stabilization Program houses.

The second part of the training involved touring four houses located in the historic districts that will be rehabbed in the current round of NSP funding. None of the houses are spectacular but all embody characteristics typical of late 19th and early 20th century working class housing and therefore contribute to the surrounding historic district and the rich history of the area. While touring each of the houses, Robb outlined the ways that rehabilitation could be undertaken and still follow EPA lead safety requirements, receive an energy star rating and be updated to a modern efficient use. While we explored each of the houses, Robb and I also answered questions about character defining features and talked with each of the contractors about Saginaw history, historic building materials and other projects that they have done in the area.

While much of the information in the training session may have been overwhelming for some of the contractors unfamiliar with historic rehabs, I think that it was conducted in a way that allowed them to bring the best of their professional knowledge to an application of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. In the next couple of months, as the contractors develop the specs for the four historical NSP houses and begin work, I will be available to them to answer questions and provide them with whatever resources they may need to be successful.

Brenna Moloney is a  preservation specialist for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network in Saginaw, Michigan. She advises city and county employees on historic preservation, and works to educate the community on the importance and benefits of historic preservation by strengthening their Historic District Commission, offering workshops, and by starting a community advocacy group. Her employment was made possible through a grant from the Americana Foundation. Brenna will be blogging here about her experiences in Saginaw. Read her earlier posts on right-sizing.

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.

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 editorial@savingplaces.org.

Saginaw's Old West Side: The Nexus of Past, Present, and Future

Posted on: March 18th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Brenna Moloney 

Old Saginaw City, a bright spot for historic preservation on the west side of the Saginaw River.

I am currently working in Saginaw, Michigan to bring a historic preservation perspective to the work of right-sizing. As I’ve reported in previous posts, there are large areas of the city where the housing stock is so deteriorated that it has become ripe for demolition. As I do my work, it is important that I also keep in mind the bright spots in Saginaw’s preservation. 

One such bright spot is Old Saginaw City on the west side of the Saginaw River. This commercial historic district boasts a remarkable collection of late 19th-century Italianate warehouses and commercial buildings, and lies just a few blocks from one of Saginaw’s beautiful residential historic districts, Heritage Square. While it is true that many of the buildings in this area remain unused, a thriving number of businesses have found their home here, making a walk down Hamilton Street or Michigan Avenue a pleasant way to spend an afternoon or evening. 

While stopping in for coffee at the Red Eye, shopping for outdoor gear at the Stable Outdoor Outfitters, enjoying Pad Thai at Pasong’s, or meeting for beers at JB Meinburg’s (all businesses housed in historical buildings), there is a feeling of community here that is unique and special. This is no accident, nor is it something that grew spontaneously from nothing. Like a rare plant, a disinvested community’s sense of place must be nurtured and coaxed into existence. Behind each of the businesses and events found on the Old West Side is the West Saginaw Civic Association, a community group that works tirelessly to promote the area and to ensure its success. The people of the West Saginaw Civic Association consider themselves not only business people, but also the caretakers of their city, community crime watchers, and the shapers of Saginaw’s future. 

Older buildings are vital economic and cultural catalysts for cities. Because of low rents, older buildings allow a myriad of small business people and nonprofits to set up shop where they couldn’t otherwise. These small businesses not only add texture and character to a community, they provide vital services to the neighborhoods in which they exist, acting as the eyes and ears of every block. One of the tasks that I have undertaken in Saginaw is to convince both business people and community groups of the enormous power of historic buildings and districts. If the Old West Side can thrive, it will create a ripple effect in adjacent historic residential neighborhoods, ensuring their continued use and protection.

In an effort to assist the West Saginaw Civic Association and other groups like it in Saginaw, I try to attend as many community meetings as my schedule will allow. Further, I consider every encounter with anyone in Saginaw as a potential historic preservation networking opportunity. Most importantly, I frequent local businesses whenever I am in Saginaw, not just to spend my money, but to talk with owners and to get a sense of what they need and how I can connect them to preservation resources. My goal is for these efforts to not only help with the revitalization of the business district, but to jumpstart preservation efforts in general – and especially within the adjacent Heritage Square residential historic district where some of the right-sizing activity is taking place. 

In the beginning, this multifaceted and interpersonal approach to historic preservation in the face of right-sizing was often clumsy and difficult. However, in the end, I believe it will pay off. 

In October, Brenna Moloney was hired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network as a preservation specialist in the city of Saginaw, Michigan. She advises city and county employees on historic preservation, and works to educate the community on the importance and benefits of historic preservation by strengthening their Historic District Commission, offering workshops, and by starting a community advocacy group. Her employment was made possible through a grant from the Americana Foundation. Brenna will be blogging here about her experiences in Saginaw. Read her earlier posts.

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.

Mapping the Direction of Right-Sizing in Saginaw

Posted on: February 18th, 2011 by Guest Writer 6 Comments

 

Written by Brenna Moloney

Saginaw's old train depot.

Saginaw's old train depot.

There has been much hype in the media and buzz in urban planning circles about right-sizing but to see the term explicitly defined is a rarity. Popularly, the term is used to refer to the process of bringing a city’s infrastructure and housing stock in line with current needs and declining population trends. It is largely hailed, by the multitude of politicians, government officials and business owners who invoke its rhetorical power, as a rational response to the productive collapse of the Middle-American city. Right-sizing, we are told, represents an effort to impose order on what appears to be a largely chaotic process. Right-sizing also involves a determination of what’s valuable and what has the greatest potential to rise from the ashes, once economic conditions have stabilized. Preservation professionals may play an increasingly important role in this aspect of right-sizing and planning.

North of the 675 freeway in Saginaw, there are neighborhoods with virtually nothing remaining. The old train depot is in this area and across the street from it, there are rows of empty business buildings, some late 19th Century Italianates, others mid-20th Century modern, all in an advanced state of decay. Behind the business buildings lies block after nearly empty block, some with houses so huge and so grand, they take your breath away.

An abandoned car wash near the train station.

An abandoned car wash near the train station.

Part of the challenge to implementing government programs that address right-sizing, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, involve evaluating the current conditions of the city. It is not enough to say that there are huge swaths of emptiness and blight and a few “big old houses.” The conditions of each area should be evaluated, lest important historic resources be overlooked. The question “what buildings define our city?” should be asked, among others.

In Saginaw, the challenge is compounded by the fact that many of the historic district maps are outdated or inaccurate. Part of my time in Saginaw has been spent rectifying this problem. I have been going through each of the National Register Files, taking notes and making copies of the maps. I then compare them to the GIS maps on file with the city of Saginaw and correct the inaccuracies in borders and names. This is done with the cooperation of the city’s planner and GIS staff.

Empty storefronts.

Empty storefronts.

The next step in determining conditions in Saginaw will be to conduct a resurvey of districts and potential districts. Since the National Register and local districts were established in the late 1970s, there has been a loss of integrity as the population declined and many buildings sat empty or were demolished. Though time will not allow an intensive level survey, I will be conducting a windshield survey with State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) historians over the next month. Our survey will include everything within the city limits and will take in to account eligible, non-eligible and potentially eligible districts. These survey results will be noted and recorded as an additional layer on the existing GIS and SHPO maps. They will be used to guide future decision making and determination as the city and state move forward with revitalization and right-sizing in Saginaw. They will used in conjunction with various neighborhood plans already in place and distributed to the Historic District Commission and other city commissions and departments. It is my hope that these maps will become dynamic, living parts of the right-sizing process.

In October, Brenna Moloney was hired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network as a preservation specialist in the city of Saginaw, Michigan. She advises city and county employees on historic preservation, and works to educate the community on the importance and benefits of historic preservation by strengthening their Historic District Commission, offering workshops, and by starting a community advocacy group. Her employment was made possible through a grant from the Americana Foundation. Brenna will be blogging here about her experiences in Saginaw. Read her earlier posts here.

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.

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 editorial@savingplaces.org.