Tagged: The Economics of Historic Preservation

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.

10 Most Overlooked Women in Architecture History – Arch Daily


Image via Arch Daily

In case you missed it last week, you should definitely check out this run down of ten brilliant women in architecture!

Just the Facts: The Economics of Preservation – Buffalo Rising

In response to negativity toward historic preservation efforts in Buffalo, New York, Derek King logically and methodically explains why preservation makes sense for the economy, sustainability, job creation, energy efficiency etc.  to debunk the top five criticisms against historic preservation.  It’s this kind of reasoned and fact filled argument that will go a long way toward fixing preservation’s image problem.

Women in Preservation – Preservation Nation

In honor of Women’s History Month, Preservation Nation is profiling and  interviewing women in  preservation and talking about the places they saved. First up, Helen Pitts Douglas and the Frederick Douglas Memorial, Nancy Schamu, and How the West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society Paved the Way for the Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home.  Check back at Preservation Nation for more stories about Women in Preservation all through March.


The Man Who Demolished Shakespeare’s House – BBC News


Tattershall in Lincolnshire. Image via BBC News

Some of you may have seen this article over at Preservation and Place on Monday, but it was so good I had to share it with those of you who didn’t. Great Britain has some of the strongest conservation laws in the world, but it wasn’t always so.  This article gives a brief history of  the “small group of pioneers [who] knew heritage was something to treasure and by saving it shaped the Britain we know today. They were driven by some acts of destruction, and some very near misses, that are shocking today.”

America’s Best Small Town Comebacks – CNN


Downtown Paducah, Kentucky. Image via Destination360

How did these eight small towns get back on their feet?  Through historic preservation! (Surprise, surprise, right?! Ha!)  Click through to learn more about how these towns made big comebacks by valuing their historic spaces.

Q is for Quality of Life – Preservation in Pink

“My favorite chain reaction is this: people define where they live –> people improve their communities and protect their communities –> people have a sense of place –> people have pride in where they live –> people have a good quality of life –> everyone is happier … therefore … historic preservation is helping to make the world a better place and helping to save the world (as we flamingos might say).”


Does Historic Preservation Have An Image Problem?

In this economic climate, there is one word on everyone’s lips: jobs.  So it’s no surprise that the University of Kentucky’s 7th Annual Historic Preservation Symposium hosted by the school’s historic preservation program and the College of Design (COD) focused on just that.

Entitled “Preservation = Jobs,”  the two day event highlighted the ways in which preservation leads to job creation through economic revitalization, environmental sustainability, entrepreneurship and the building trades.  It also highlighted something else:

Historic preservation has a perception problem.

Several of the four speakers who graced the stage at Lexington’s Carnegie Center acknowledged that they were “preaching to the choir,”  and they were right. Though the symposium was free and open to the public, the audience was largely made up of historic preservation professionals (state and non-profit employees, developers, tradesmen, etc) and HP students. In other words, people who already know that historic preservation generates jobs and can bring money and investments to flagging communities.

Many people with no ties to the preservation world, however, believe that historic preservation is elitist, time -consuming, difficult to accomplish, complicated legally, expensive and a drain on resources. A lot of people truly believe that it is easier and less expensive to replace something old with something new, whether that means knocking down a building to make way for new construction or replacing historic windows, and that these activities are better for the economy than preservation.


General Broadwater at the American College of the Building Arts. Image via ACBA

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Colby Broadwater, the president of the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, SC, compared this perception of preservation to wine.  When he was a kid, if you wanted wine there was the red jug or the white jug.  And people didn’t mind because they didn’t know any better. But as people learned more about wine, they began demanding better quality and a larger variety. Today, you can purchase an infinite variety at a wide range of price points and the industry earns over $32 billion dollars a year in the US – all because of the educated consumer.

Therefore, the questions that the presenters and subsequent panel discussions kept coming back to over and over revolved around education.

How do we get our message out there and start correcting misconceptions?

Unsurprisingly, there were as many opinions about this quandary as there were people in attendance!

Broadwater, whose graduates have a 100% employment rate has watched Charleston rise to become Conde Naste’s number one travel destination based on seven square miles of preserved historic districts. The people who come to see old Charleston have a $3.22 billion economic impact on the city each year. Those dollars generate jobs for craftsmen like his graduates, the hospitality industry, city and state employees (taxes ya’ll!), retailers, and the list goes on and on. Numbers like that are their own advertisement.


During the panel discussion that followed Broadwater’s presentation, Patrick Kennedy, the former Kentucky Heritage Council Restoration Project Manager, cited his belief that we are on the cusp of a second Craftsman revolution.  His evidence – growing movements to eat local, be local, and value quality and new television programs on networks like HGTV that feature craftsmen and preservation, both of which create a more educated consumer and better steward of the built environment. They are able to make smarter choices about their property and are less susceptible to the salesman (who probably doesn’t know any better himself) who shows up at the front door with a magnetic sign slapped on the side of the truck to convince homeowners that spray insulation (which can cause moisture problems in older buildings) or new windows (which aren’t necessarily more energy efficient or less expensive) or vinyl siding (which becomes brittle over time, blows away in strong winds, and can’t be maintained) will improve their house.

Joe Pierson, Executive Director of The Kentucky Trust for Historic Preservation warned that in our effort to educate and advocate for historic preservation, the message is changing too often.  “Stop piggy backing on the green movement and jobs… HP looks wimpy for doing it! We need a full-throated preservation argument!”


Image via Ziger/Snead

Because historic preservation is an umbrella term that encompasses so many disciplines, it is easy to hop-scotch around with the message. The past three symposium themes are a perfect example: jobs, adaptive reuse, and diversity. Nevertheless, Pierson’s opinion earned a quick rebuttal from the UK COD Abell Chair, Doug Appler, who emphasized the importance of learning “all the languages and learning who to use each one with, ” whether that language be numbers (money, jobs, percentages, etc), cultural value, how HP fits into other movements (like the green movement), or arguments that find a personal connection with the business owner, politician, or homeowner with whom you are trying to educate about the benefits of preservation. It is dangerous to assume that everyone has the same value system.


David Feldman on his porch in Merion with his cat Panther. The house needed work when he bought it in 2000, but he was impressed by the stone walls, woodwork, and fine neighborhood. It was a home worth nurturing. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer) Image via Philly.com

Learning to communicate with and build relationships with the leaders of other movements, city leaders, and entrepreneurs is the key to unhinging a lot of misconceptions about preservation, according to David Feldman, the founder of Right Sized Homes, and Todd Barman, the Senior Main Street Program Officer at The National Trust for Historic Preservation.  By building relationships with these business and community leaders, preservationists can educate about the benefits of historic preservation and work together with the leaders to create preservation positive policies and opportunities and to build stronger communities.

According to Feldman and Barman, by creating strong communities we can attract more people and more jobs to our cities. Cities with sustainable and vibrant city centers, strong communities, and historic walkable neighborhoods close to transit are the fastest growing cities in the United States, because the millennial housing trend has turned the traditional formula on its head. Rather than finding a good job and moving to the place where that job is, millennials are picking the city or neighborhood where they want to live and then finding a job.


Image via North Carolina Main Street Center

At the top of his presentation, Feldman (whose company aims to improve the quality of life in existing urban neighborhoods through sustainable renovation and infill), outlined what he called the jobs/people paradigm, “Jobs attract people. People attract jobs.”  By working with policy makers, community leaders, and by educating the consumer we can shift the perception of preservation so that more built and cultural history can be preserved in our communities (which creates jobs), thereby creating the kinds of places people want to live (which attracts jobs) and the kind of place people want to visit (which creates even more jobs).


Did you know?

Over the past 30 years Historic Tax Credits created 2.2 million jobs, leveraged $100 billion in investment, and rehabilitated more than 38,000 existing buildings.

This former YMCA Beaux Arts building currently houses St. Francis High School and apartments in downtown Louisville, Kentucky thanks to Historic Tax Credits. Image via AU Associates. Click through to learn more about this project.

This little factoid via The National Trust for Historic Preservation.  If you are interested in learning more about HTCs or the threat to them during this fiscal crisis, please visit http://www.savehistoriccredit.org/.

This Week

 A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the news.

Tax Credits are No Joke

Baker Chocolate Factory (side view) in Dorchester, Massachusetts via Preservation Nation

Architect Robert Verrier has helped to restore over 150 historic buildings using historic tax credits. In his post over at Preservation Nation, he discusses how historic preservation and tax credits boost the economy, encourage business, and are a savvy investment.  Preservation can also buoy a community, revitalize neighborhoods, and it’s green!  Be sure to check out his post to read more and to see examples of his beautiful work.

Public Art Inspired by the Past

First Conundrum via heritagelandscapecreativity

It seems like I’ve been talking a lot about public art here on Bricks + Mortar lately.  Once I started thinking about its relationship to historic preservation, I just can’t stop. And I see it everywhere now. So I really loved this post over at heritagelandscapecreativity,  which delves into the relationship between sculpture and archeology in Scotland.  It highlights the piece,  First Conundrum, based on geometrically refined neolithic Scottish stone spheres.  The large scale replicas are as engaging as they are beautiful. Check it out! (See more photos here).

Spindletop Hall deTour Photos

If you enjoyed this, this or this post about last month’s BGT deTour at Spindletop Hall, you should definitely pop over to the  Kaintuckeean’s Flickr to see more photos from the behind the scenes tour!

Ruin Porn

Ruin porn is an artistic movement characterized by photographs of the blight, decay, and abandonment of structures in post-industrial cities, most notably Detroit.  It is a trend that seems ubiquitous and is only growing.  It was named Trend of the Year in 2011 by Architzer, the web’s fastest growing database of architecture.  Type “ruin porn” into any search engine (even Pinterest!) and millions of results pop up within seconds.  It can be found in museums and galleries, in newspapers, and on TV news.   So what is with the provocative name? Why are so many people into this trend? Is it good or is it bad?

Why “pornography”?

Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, image from “The Ruins of Detroit” (2005- ) (image from thestapleton.com)

por·nog·ra·phy 3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction < the pornography of violence>

Ruin porn elicits an emotional reaction from the viewer – as does the word pornography. Both the term and the movement are tinged with sensationalism. They are both considered a guilty pleasure.   There is also a sense that these photographs are being taken by outsiders and that the photographs are exploitative.   People who don’t have to deal with the effects of the urban decay they photograph swoop into an economically depressed area, get their images, leave, and then show everyone what they saw for their own personal gain.

The word pornography is attention grabbing.  It gets press. The Germans have a word for a love of ruins and abandoned places. They call it ruinenlust.  Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same, does it?  I really can’t see ruinenlust grabbing headlines the way Ruin Porn has.

What is the appeal of ruins and decay?


The ruined Spanish-Gothic interior of the United Artists Theater in Detroit. The cinema was built in 1928 by C Howard Crane, and finally closed in 1974. Photograph: Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

Germans love it. Americans love. The Romantics of the early 19th century were fascinated by decay and ruins. Painters of the Renaissance obsessed over Grecian ruins… But why?

Done right, the images are beautiful, provocative, and nostalgic. They stir the emotions.  They draw you in and peak your curiosity.  They beg the questions, “where, why, how?”  (Don’t believe me? Check out abandonedamerica.us).

Psychologically, ruin porn images are appealing because they are startling.  According to Tim Edensor, a professor of geography at Manchester Metropolitan University, they “offer an escape from excessive order.”  It takes your brain more effort to sort out what its seeing, and it enjoys the challenge.

Though I’m not a huge fan of the term “ruin porn” because of its sensationalism and its silent accusation of wrong-doing, I am a fan of the genre.  I find the images arresting. They elicit an emotional response from me – one of nostalgia and wistfulness.  As a preservationist, it troubles me to see an historical structure crumbling due to neglect.  At the same time these images offer a unique look at historical spaces.  The deconstructive narrative of the images is as informative as it is beautiful. Flaking paint layers, crumbling plaster, exposed structural elements – all reveal something about the space and how it has been used.  The debris remaining in a space also offers clues about how it was used and who used it.  Ruin porn offers an uncurated link to the past.

Harmful or Helpful?

Old Courthouse Rotunda Lexington, KY

Ruin porn is more than an artistic movement. It is a comment on society.  Post-industrial cities are falling to ruin because of a changed economic climate that has given birth to the “rust belt.”  Ruin porn highlights how this economic change has effected the built environment.  Its critics claim ruin porn is condescending to the residents of the rust belt.  Ruin porn ignores them altogether – there is rarely a human element in a ruin porn image.  Therefore, ruin porn is not an accurate portrayal of the cities in which they live.  Citizens  have pushed back with ant-ruin porn rhetoric and and projects that actively  combat these misconceptions, like Can’t Forget the Motor City, a collaborative photo-project showcasing the vibrant culture of Detroit.  These cities have more to offer than urban decay.

Proponents of ruin porn believe in its possibility.  According to Richey Piiparinen of Rust Wire, ruin porn “outed” ruin. It pulled back the sheets and exposed the blight caused by a failed  system.  “… By outing and framing it—not to mention capturing the inherent beauty in broken things—Ruin Porn exposed the  failure and decay, thus clearing the secrecy, the shame, and leaving perceptual room to see less emptiness and more space.”  By raising awareness, ruin porn has the potential to change the way America responds to the economic failure of its cities.

Ruin porn has attracted tourists to cities – both foreign and American. It  has brought artists and professionals in search of urban decay.  Edwin Gardner calls this “intellectual disaster tourism.”  In a poll last month, the Huffington Post asked, “does photographing urban decay actually aid the communities at stake?” I think the simple answer is yes. Tourists spend money in the communities they visit – on food, accommodations,  transportation and maybe even souvenirs.

I agree that ruin porn has exposed decay and blight. I believe the awareness it has raised can save important historical structures.  I also believe that ruin porn documents structures that might otherwise have escaped notice; ruin porn photographs have the possibility of being useful to future research. For those reasons and more, I am a fan of ruin porn.

What do you think? Is ruin porn friend or foe?