National Preservation Conference


by Michael R. Allen

In the weeks leading up to PastForward, the 2014 National Preservation Conference, we've asked thought leaders to set the stage for this year's four tracks. In this post, Michael Allen, the director of the Preservation Research Office, addresses rightsizing, legacy cities, and real estate tools - topics that will be discussed during learning labs at the conference track titled preservationVENTURE.  Michael will be a responder at the Thursday TrustLive. For more information on PastForward visit For more on preservationVENTURE check out the reading list.


A city-owned row of flats on North Market Street in St. Louis' St. Louis Place neighborhood, outside of historic district boundaries. | Credit: Michael R. Allen/Preservation Research Office

Today, as historic preservationists delve into the realities of older American cities that have faced population and building loss, we find ourselves reaching—and transcending—our field’s own limits. Nowhere is this more evident than in our engagement with the methodology of “rightsizing,” which has found preservation advocates making the case for embracing some demolition. The converse of this bold new look at urban preservation means developing serious conservation strategies for vernacular building stock that might not come in the tidiest, architectural history textbook–friendly form. If we embrace demolition to save cities, we can’t neglect the preservation work needed for what remains.

That’s where our left hand smacks into our right. The National Register of Historic Places, the backbone of American preservation practice for nearly 50 years, looks more like an impediment than a helpmate for the new era of legacy city preservation. In some cases, it actually makes preservation of places important to people more difficult.

The major problem for legacy cities is that National Register listing is predicated on a building or district’s “integrity,” a status based on having a majority of seven aspects based on historic appearance. For a city like Boston or Savannah, finding districts that look as they did in an earlier time is a lot easier than finding the same in East St. Louis or Detroit. Fractured neighborhoods don’t stand a chance of becoming historic districts, no matter how hard communities push. The National Register privileges appearance over community will, public commemoration and economic value.... Read More →

preservationTOMORROW: A Reading List About the Future of Preservation

Posted on: October 17th, 2014 by Preservation Leadership Forum Staff No Comments


PastForward_LOGO_RGBThe preservationTOMORROW track at PastForward promises an intriguing variety of perspectives on the future of the preservation movement, including how to make preservation relevant in a changing world, how to respond to shifting demographics, and how to ensure preservation resonates with young, culturally diverse audiences. Majora Carter, an Urban Revitalization Strategist and a 2005 MacArthur Genius Fellow will be the keynote speaker for this track, which is also the opening plenary. Her presentation, which takes place on Wednesday, November 12, will look at how preservation approaches or engagement is—or should be—changing in the 21st century.

We have prepared the following reading—and in some cases “viewing” —list to get you ready for what promises to be a thought-provoking series of presentations and discussions. Our list is a bit eclectic—but then, there’s a lot to think about going forward! (Additional Reading Lists: preservationSTORY, preservationVENTURE, preservationCRISIS)

You will want to start by viewing the TED talk by keynote speaker Majora Carter. Her TED talk, “Greening the Ghetto,” was one of the first six talks that launched In it, she discusses the link between environmental degradation and social inequality in the South Bronx. She also presents three stories of eco-entrepreneurship in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Whitesville, Virginia. You can also read an interview she did for the American Society of Landscape Architects on the role designers and landscape architects can play in revitalizing communities. And finally, you will want to read the recent Next City article, “How Majora Carter Plans to Transform a Building of Injustice in New York,” in which Alexis Stephens looks at Carter’s recent project—a proposal for the adaptive use of the juvenile Spofford Detention Center in Hunts Point.

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The Future of Historic Places and Climate Change

Posted on: October 15th, 2014 by Special Contributor 1 Comment


By Adam Markham

In the weeks leading up to PastForward, the 2014 National Preservation Conference, we've asked experts to set the stage for this year's four tracks. In this post, Adam Markham, the director of the Climate Impacts Initiative at the Union of Concerned Scientists, addresses climate change, a topic that will be discussed during the conference track titled preservationCRISIS.  Brenda Ekwurzel, Senior Climate Scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, will be at the Thursday TrustLive and leading one of the Learning Labs in this track. For more information on PastForward visit Make sure to also check out the preservationCRISIS reading list.

Sometimes a visitor’s appreciation of historic sites can benefit from a good dose of imagination. Who doesn’t conjure thousands of soldiers from their mind’s eye on a walk across the battlefield at Gettysburg? But more and more, I find myself imagining not what these places were like in the past, but what will become of them in the future.

Annapolis, MD - City Dock | Credit: Photo by Amy E. McGovern

Flooding at City Dock in Annapolis, Maryland | Credit: Photo by Amy E. McGovern

Sea level rise and coastal flooding exacerbated by extreme rainfall events and storms, is perhaps the most obvious threat to our heritage. You can stand on the harbor wall of Annapolis’s bustling City Dock and imagine what it must have been like for the members of the Continental Congress who met there after the American Revolution in the winter of 1783-4; or you can stand there and imagine the historic buildings swamped with water as they were during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. The City of Annapolis (with support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation) has identified 140 historic buildings at risk from flooding, and the story of growing risk and vulnerability is repeated in historic districts all along America’s coasts. As our planet warms and the climate continues to change, it’s becoming clear that the consequences could be dire for many thousands of historic buildings, archaeological sites and cultural landscapes.

The global average of sea level rise was about 8 inches between 1880 and 2009, a period during which the planet warmed by 1.8 degrees F. As water warms, it expands, and this combined with the melting of land ice including glaciers and polar ice sheets causes sea levels to rise. The amount the water rises is quite variable from place to place depending on local factors such as land subsidence and groundwater extraction. For example, the 600-mile stretch of the east coast from Cape Hatteras in North Carolina up to Maine has experienced some of the fastest rates of sea level rise anywhere in the world since the 1970s.

Rising sea levels present a direct problem to vulnerable historic structures in coastal communities. Higher seas mean more frequent and severe tidal flooding, increased rates of coastal erosion, and greater storm damage. A new Union of Concerned Scientists analysis of 52 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration) tide gauges along the East and Gulf coasts shows that many low-lying communities will experience a doubling or tripling of high-tide flooding events within the next 15 years.

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