One of our goals here at Preservation Leadership Forum is to be sure that wherever you go, you are the smartest preservationist in the room. The National Preservation Conference is one of the best ways for us to do that and the best way for you to not only learn but to share your smart and innovative ideas, projects, and programs. We are now accepting educational session proposals that contain challenging content aimed at preservation leaders and emerging leaders and that offer cutting-edge strategies and tools. We are planning a program in Indianapolis that offers a rich exchange of ideas and that sets a new direction in the following areas:
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National Preservation Conference
Another Conversation Starter at the Spokane National Preservation Conference focused on ways that preservationists can work with diverse communities to develop richer stories of place. Panelists used their experiences to highlight different strategies and success stories. Speakers Aissia Richardson (Uptown Entertainment & Development Corp.) and Michelle Magalong (My HiFi) respond here to a few of the questions that went unanswered at the end of the session.
First, however, Michelle Magalong suggests five strategies for preservationists who are working with diverse communities to tell richer stories of place:
1. Representation in the process: Preservation work requires full representation by all communities affected by the project or site. There is a difference between an empty ritual of participation versus having the real power to influence the outcome or process. Communities must feel that their participation truly has a direct influence on the process and outcome and not feel that their involvement is contrived or tokenized. As such, it is critical to fully engage participants by developing partnerships with community groups and involving community leaders in decision making.
2. Knowledge of their history: Many marginalized communities have a history of discrimination, disenfranchisement, displacement, and invisibility. As a result, these communities may be skeptical about participating in preservation efforts. Furthermore, many marginalized communities were denied the right to own homes or businesses, causing them to create a sense of home and community in non-traditional ways. Consequently, buildings and sites that may be historically or culturally significant to these communities often do not fit traditional standards of historic preservation. A single site may have a complex, layered history, and it will be necessary to peel through each layer to understand the various interpretations and uses of this site.
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At the National Preservation Conference in Spokane, each day kicked off with a Conversation Starter—a 90-minute session designed to frame the sessions and discussions that followed. Each Conversation Starter ended with a question-and-answer period. Audience members had plenty of questions and comments, and at the end of the Conversation Starters, some questions still remained unanswered. We’ve asked the two speakers from the “Beyond LEED Conversation Starter,” Patrice Frey (PF), director of Sustainability at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Beth Heider (BH), chair of USGBC, to respond to some of the remaining questions from their session.
Question: Given how challenging it can be to win the historic preservation argument (emphasis on historic) and that the vast majority of existing buildings are not, and likely never will be, designated as historic, would it help or hinder our movement to expand our efforts to all existing buildings?
PF: This is a great question. I suspect that as preservationists, we’re always going to care about some buildings more than others—those with historic or cultural value. Through our work with the Preservation Green Lab, however, we often find that in the process of trying to protect the buildings we care about the most, it’s necessary to create research and policy solutions that touch on all manner of existing buildings. And frankly, as a practical matter, it’s a lot easier to generate support for research and policy work when we can demonstrate that it will help us understand or create positive outcomes for many buildings—not just the relatively few that are designated as historic.
For example, some years ago we discovered that energy codes were creating challenges for rehabbing historic buildings—sometimes resulting in underutilization of these resources or even demolition. Yet the best solution, in our estimation, wasn’t to develop a policy fix that just suited historic buildings. Instead, we set to work with the City of Seattle, the New Buildings Institute, and others to develop an innovative new code process that would work better for many existing buildings. This allows us to broaden our coalition of support, which is always important when working toward any sort of policy changes.
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