Are we winning or losing? Are we picking the right battles? Do we have the right tools? I found myself asking all of these questions as I listened to Don’s speech.
Don’s speech at the National Preservation Conference was more than a morning wake-up call; it was a cold shower.
Crowninshield Award winner Donovan Rypkema’s thought-provoking special lecture at the National Preservation Conference was published last month in the November 2012 Forum Focus. We asked some of the attendees of the lecture to respond to his comments and to explain how his speech has affected their work. Here are three of those opinions.
What do you think? How can we address some of Rypkema’s concerns? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Historic Boston, Inc.
Don Rypkema may be a number-crunching economic development expert, but on Saturday, November 4, he was an angry one might even say unhinged preservationist. Don’s speech at the National Preservation Conference was more than a morning wake-up call (it was 7 a.m.); it was a cold shower. The icy point: preservation is in trouble and anyone who calls themselves a preservationist should be irate at the dismantling of so many public policies and resources built over the last 50 years.
Don’s speech makes me wonder if preservation has lost its zeal, forgotten how to fight, let go of scrappy grassroots political strategy. Sure we need to have a clear and engaging message. Certainly we need research and data. But Don’s speech made clear to me that our message of preservation = economic development, preservation = jobs, is not getting out there despite hard data to show its exponential impact.
One segment of Don’s speech really pricked up my ears. It went something like: “We have to hold policy makers’ feet to the fire and, if they don’t do the right thing, we will remember.” Them’s fightin’ words! Politicians have long memories and so should we. If you don’t support us now, don’t expect our support later. Think about it: We have lost our national grant programs, we’re fighting elementary battles with municipalities and states about preservation authority, and now the federal historic tax credits are in question.
All Crowninshield Award winners have this in common: they’re fighters, and it’s that special mix of great ideas and unfettered resolve that underpin their success. A lot of inspiration comes from conviction and tenacity. Don Rypkema may be known for feasibility studies and technical analyses, but in Spokane, he reinforced for me the values of speaking up and making sure I’m heard.
Field Director, Western Field Office
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Wake up! That was Don Rypkema’s first message to the hundreds of conference goers who ventured out to hear him at a dark, early hour in rainy Spokane. Gracious and subdued in accepting his Crowninshield Award on Friday night, Don’s tone the next morning was blunt and forceful. Much of what we have come to take for granted in historic preservation is at risk, he said. Some of our favorite tools -- grants, enhancements, historic districts, tax credits -- have been removed from the toolbox or might soon disappear. If current trends continue, Don concluded, the preservation world as we know it will soon come to an end.
In some ways, it already has. One of the most striking statistics that Don shared was that just one new local historic district has been established in the entire state of North Carolina over the past 20 years. That is hard to believe, but I have seen the same trend elsewhere. Recently I worked with my colleagues Amy Cole and Jennifer Sandy to assess the preservation movement in the Omaha - Council Bluffs metro area. We found that no new local historic districts have been established in Omaha since the 1980s and only three individual local landmarks have been designated since 2000. Yet the climate for preservation in Omaha has never been better. Tours of historic mid-century homes are sold out, downtown Omaha is coming alive, all kinds of interesting old buildings are being rehabbed, and good, new ones are getting built on formerly vacant lots. The preservationist’s vision is becoming reality.
Are we winning or losing? Are we picking the right battles? Do we have the right tools? I found myself asking all of these questions as I listened to Don’s speech. Though he began darkly, Don’s closing comments gave cause for hope. In his typical “Top Ten” format, he touched on several ideas for how preservation could grow and evolve rather than wither away. His suggestions that we consider a “graded” designation system, revisit the tax credit review process, and integrate preservation into the full spectrum of planning practice seemed particularly timely to me. Don left us with reasons to believe that, despite recent setbacks, we could find ways to leverage our success and take the preservation movement into the next 50 years.
Communication and Programs Coordinator
Preservation Alliance of Minnesota
This talk encouraged me to think more broadly about preservation. More often than not, we're approached by individuals concerned about a specific building. While that building is the most visible piece, the neighborhood and community are integrally involved in the fate of the building and all need to be included when working toward solutions. I also appreciated his argument that preservation should be appealing to all as we prepare our legislative agenda for the coming year. Preservation is incredibly unique in that it touches so many fields and so many issues. From Donovan's talk, I realized that we can all do a better job of using this flexibility and the strong numbers backing us up, to advocate for preservation to politicians of all different stripes.