Thursday, October 22, 2009

Historic Preservation is not just about landmark designation…..

It is environmental planning, sustainability and healthy living

Last week I attended the Monroe County Land Use Workshop on Historic Preservation for Municipalities. It was refreshing to see professionals echoing the same sentiments that we deal with in our office every single day!

To me, this workshop was fascinating as it reinforced my ideologies about preservation and how it is not just about preserving a beautiful building, but also is a commitment to protect our built environment through sustainable practices and philosophies.

We are often asked if we designate buildings and help the owners in getting a landmark status. It’s a common misconception that we are the prime authority involved in the designation of a building just because our name is The Landmark Society. Actually, this is a federal procedure! We can surely help the building owners achieve this designation through our expertise and guidance. We try to work with people in our community as often as we can. This is something that was echoed by both the speakers that preservation is a communal effort and how each one of can us contribute towards it.

Amy Facca, preservation planner in the Field Services Bureau of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (SHPO), was the first speaker. She talked about historic preservation as a field and its perception in the general public, as well as an identification of who’s who in the field and federal, state and local laws. It seems that many share similar first impressions of historic preservation – that we’re just a group of people appealing to save a building at the eleventh hour. Amy explained it’s extremely hard to understand the complexity and boundaries of preservation since it’s a new field in the United States. She shared that preservation is not just the work of a professional, but also the responsibility of every citizen who cares for his/her community and its character. I totally understood her sentiment as I deal with it on a regular basis…this is perhaps the reason we work with communities and their individual preservation boards.

As examples, Amy mentioned various case studies in NY where innovative methods and techniques have been used. Each project highlighted key principles ranging from grassroots approaches to highly-innovative marketing strategies to promote community and economic revitalization. She concluded with a quote from famous preservation economist Donovan Rypkema: “Any community can duplicate your community’s water lines, industrial park or tax rate; no community can duplicate your historic and other place- based resources.” I think this very well summarizes our advocacy efforts!

Jayme Breschard, senior planner with the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council presented an interesting perspective about the inter-disciplinary and multifarious nature of the field of historic preservation. I am very much in sync with this thought process as I feel preservation is inherently sustainable and all our efforts should be directed in promoting this awareness.

Her talk focused on local historic preservation legislation and three prime principles of preservation— green building, environmental planning and quality of life. She presented very novel case studies from the local communities of western New York and how they each incorporated historic preservation towards a common goal of protecting community resources.

One of the best examples she gave was the story of the Palmyra Elementary Walking Route to Education and Wellness. This project involved construction of sidewalks, installation of bike racks and educational materials to encourage walking/biking to school. She also mentioned the Green Brighton Task Force- an initiative taken by the Town of Brighton to consider regulatory amendments to incorporate green principles and incentives to protect the existing housing stock of the neighborhood.

She had a very fascinating case study about South Shore Bay Houses in Long Island, which were floating homes, traditionally used as a shelter for fishermen. They were remnants of vernacular architecture of the region and were intrinsic to the cultural value of this area. She explained how such a project could be a part of the larger goal of preservation. She concluded her talk with various strategies used by different communities towards historic preservation planning and reasons for their success.

Overall, it was a thought provoking session exemplifying how preservation is a part of our daily lives and how we breathe in our built environment every single day of our lives!

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate

No comments: