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Highway Planning on a Landscape Scale: The Next Generation

By Brenda Barrett June 29, 2016
Proposed Central Susquehanna Transportation Project Courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Proposed Central Susquehanna Transportation Project
Courtesey Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

What happens when a highway project long planned to improve the functionality of the overall transportation system runs up against newer approaches of planning on a landscape scale? I recently spoke to this issue at the Pennsylvania Statewide Conference on Heritage   (June  6-8, 2016 Lewisburg PA). The project in question, the  Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project (CSVT) ,  was under construction nearby and involved a bypass and a major new bridge crossing over the Susquehanna River. It  was planned to remedy traffic congestion on the one of the state’s major north south corridors and reroute through traffic, particularly truck traffic, out of small towns in the region.  But the project’s history was anything, but straightforward.

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn Courtesey Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn
Courtesey  Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Planning for the project began long ago with the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the selected alignment approved in 2003. After project design was underway, it was put on hold due to lack of funding. With the passage of a new funding package in 2013, the project was reactivated. However, during that ten-year hiatus ideas about the cultural and natural values in the region had undergone a substantial shift. The project now crossed through the Susquehanna Greenway , a 500 miles state greenway. This section of the river was now designated as a National Recreational Trail by the Secretary of the Interior. And most significantly, the river corridor was incorporated into the CaptainJohn Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.  Originally authorized by Congress in 2006, its goals was to help the visitors to the Chesapeake Bay understand the significance of John Smith’s explorations and his impact upon the rich American Indian cultures and to appreciate and care for the life and landscape of this national treasure. The trail now extends up the many of the tributaries of the Chesapeake in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

When long delayed construction of the CSVT  was announced, all of these new designations brought new partners to the table  seeking to conserve landscape scale cultural and natural resources in the project area – resources that had not even been envisioned in 2003. The traditional transportation planning approach had been to identify individual historic or archeological sites and the specific location of a threatened flora or faunal species and then avoid or mitigate site specific impacts. Now this whole approach was being called into question. In the case of the CSVT compromises were negotiated and in particular minimization strategies were developed to reduce impact on the Susquehanna River crossing, provide additional public access, and offer more consultation on riverfront development in the future.

btn15_mapBut what about the next time?  To begin with we need to recast our perspective to embrace a larger landscape approach. If the one of purposes of planning for infrastructure development such as transportation projects is to do so in a way that minimizes the impact on cultural and natural resources and maximizes the benefit to the public, then we need to stay abreast of the new frameworks by which these disciplines define themselves.

Let’s start with Natural Resources. The field has long used an ecosystem approach, which understands the importance of the interaction of organisms with their wider physical environment. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences on large landscapes  tackled the central question of the best way to conserve the natural world noting that conservation challenges exceed the capacity of any single entity or protected habitat. Increased urbanization, extreme weather events, and fragmentation of habitat threaten both flora and fauna require that resource conservation take a broad landscape scale approach and build in connectivity for species to migrate and have room to range. So, it is not enough to avoid the spot where an endangered species was last spotted. What is needed is to predict where it is going, where can it thrive in the future.

Things are also shifting in the world of Cultural Resources. Historic preservation practioners know that that the discipline has moved from identifying individual landmarks to considering historic districts and now whole landscapes. The National Park Service has been a leader in calling for this re-examination of cultural landscape approach. Our commonwealth has also been in the forefront  develop ing a comprehensive multiple property documentation for the   Agricultural Resources of Pennsylvania, a good example of evaluating a complex living landscape. It is true that cultural resources are not going to migrate or fly away, but we need to accept that they are more dynamic and larger than our past concepts of what is significant. Cultural resources are best understood in a larger context that tells the whole story.

Finally, Recreational Resources are also being viewed through a wide angled lens.In the middle Atlantic many rivers and stream system are being developed into a statewide network of water trails. Former rail lines and canals are now the backbone of  trail systems running for hundreds of miles across the state. And of course the National Park Service manages National Scenic and Historic Trails system that crisscross the whole country. The most iconic being the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia and a chunk of PA in between. The connectivity of these resources is critical.  Once a trail crossing is severed, it may be impossible or at best expensive to reconnect.

 This new larger perspective presents management challenges, but there are also new regional partnerships to help coordinate these regional geographies. For example, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is fortunate in having a whole host of such organizations. The list includes multiple National Heritage Areas and a robust state heritage areas with 12 designated areas dedicated to melding natural, cultural and  recreational objectives along with community revitalization goals. The states’ Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has launched 7 conservation landscapes to drive strategic investment and actions around sustainability, conservation, community revitalization, and recreational projects. And the agency has taken a leadership role in statewide recreational resource planning.

In addition, land trusts and other regionally focused land conservation groups have been expanding rapidly – a survey a number of years ago counted over 130 of such initiatives in New England alone as well as the newly launched “Practioner’s Network for Large Landscapes”. The National Academy of Science ‘s 2015 report identified over 20 federal programs that are utilizing a landscape approach in the Department of Interior, of course, but also in agriculture and defense.

There are some difficulties as the older paradigms about place and partnerships have expanded.  Our project management skills and our regulatory tools have yet to catch up to this new way of thinking. While there are no overnight fixes and project planners will always have to play catch up,  I do want to conclude with a couple of specific suggestions:

1) Harness the power of big data – Big data is defined as large (or extremely large) data sets that may be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. The good news is that this is an area where transportation planners have been early adopters using GIS mapping in particular. But more can be done, for example,  adding the layers for rivers and trails, and other resources identified by partnership organizations. This will provide a leg up in project scoping. To get a taste of what these data bases can offer, take a look at the work of Landscope Chesapeake.  A data base that shows all the public lands and privately protected areas, trails and access points and also links in the conservation partners and state program. What a great place to begin high level 30,000-foot infrastructure planning.

2) Harness the Power of Partnerships – While much talked about, this is not easy to accomplish. And It also can seem like a burdensome add-on to what is an already crowded project planning schedule. But let’s look at the practical side,  effective public input or even better public engagement is both required as part of project planning and can make the project go more smoothly. Many of the heritage areas, land trusts, recreation organizations and conservation landscapes have identified significant resources and developed resource management plans with extensive public input.  They know what is important to the impacted region. This is great way for infrastructure planners to identify potential challenges and opportunities as well as reaching many of people who live on the ground where a project is happening.

3) Harness the power of other programs – Everyone should take a lesson from productive partnership organizations and look for the sweet spots where multiple objectives intersect. And note – this does not mean that one partner pays all – success is when projects integrate public and private dollars along with volunteer energy to deliver better communities. So think outside the box who else might have a stake in the ground? A good way to start is with an interagency approach. Who else is planning something in the region how can their work be coordinated with infrastructure development? What is in their budget and how can dollars be leveraged? High level planning that is open to new ideas is one way of accomplish these ends.

In conclusion, If I have one concern, it is that much of our planning in the past has zeroed in way too soon on way too small geography and then come up with the three least bad alternatives. Perhaps it would behoove us to spend a little more time in the stratosphere  identifying partner and programs that can help everyone be successful and accomplish their respective missions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Historic Preservation @Fifty Years: What is Going On?

By Brenda Barrett July 29, 2015
Preservation50 - 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

Preservation50 – 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

Anniversaries are big news. Last year was the 30th anniversary of the National Heritage Areas. This year in 2015 US ICOMOS reached the magical five decades. The Land and Water Conservation Fund will turn 40 in 2016. The much talked about Centennial of the National Park Service is also just over the horizon.

But it is the fiftieth anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 that has caught my attention and that of the historic preservation world. Passing the fifty year mark has special significance in a field that sets that number as the marker for determining a resource’s historicity. “Generally, properties eligible for listing in the National Register are at least 50 years old. Properties less than 50 years of age must be exceptionally important to be considered eligible for listing.

The rich irony of the National Historic Preservation program turning fifty and itself becoming historic has not been lost on many observers. So as the count down begins – with events that strike both a celebratory and a more reflective tone. A web site Preservation 50 has been launched as gathering point for information with well-designed posters and other merchandise. Trust the National Trust for Historic Preservation to find a position at the more festive end of the spectrum. The venerable Annual conference titled Past Forward (November 3-6 2015 in Washington DC) is “to begin a year-long celebration of the National Historic Preservation Act’s 50th anniversary with programming that celebrates and honors the past while looking decisively forward toward our next 50 years.”

Preservation 50 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

Preservation 50 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

The National Association of Preservation Commissions has adopted a slogan for their conference with the forced gaiety that usually marks an “over-the-hill” themed birthday party – Hip, Happening Historic Preservation @ 50. However, on a more serious note the organization is also calling for papers on future facing topics: Preservation@50, advocacy, diverse and underrepresented resources, and climate change

Goucher’s Historic Preservation Program is striking a more thoughtful tone with a national forum “A Critical Examination of the next Fifty Years”. The forum will examine predicted changes in America’s population, economy, natural environment, everyday technology, and education at all levels over the next 50 years will affect the theories, policies, and professional practice of historic preservation in the United States at all levels of government and within the private and non-profit sectors. Finally, taking the long view the The Public Historian and History@work teamed up in 2013 to inaugurate a set of conversations over the next three years “to assess the history, impact, and legacy of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.” – See the results here.

I for one am looking forward to these discussions. As in many fields that started as a movement, there gets to be a point where it is time to grow up. Historic Preservation is not alone in this problem; many of my colleagues in the environmental movement are facing the same challenge.

Some of the best ideas I have heard came from a recent talk by Randy Mason, Chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation Program at the University of Pennsylvania. He urged practioners to redesign historic preservation. Perhaps even reframing our work not as preservation, but as conservation, design and planning. As a field we should be less dependent on prescriptive polices and not settle for small victories, but take more flexible and expansive approach.

This is music to ears of someone who has been urging a landscape scale vision for historic preservation, conservation and the future of sustainable communities. I look forward to more!

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The Next Generation: Making the Link between Historic Preservation and Sustainability

By Guest Observer March 27, 2015

by Katie Rispoli

Credit: Preservation Action

Katie Rispoli, Founder of the nonpfoit We Are the Next and 2015 Preservation Advocacy Scholar

As a graduate student in Heritage Conservation at the University of Southern California, I was fortunate to be selected as a Preservation Advocacy Scholar and attend the Preservation Action Conference in Washington, D.C. this March. My visit to DC allowed me to understand the greater dynamic of historic preservation funding and policy, and to make connections with my local representatives. Through these connections I was able to share my work at We Are the Next, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2014 and continue to operate full-time. The organization serves Los Angeles County.

We Are the Next embodies what I believe to be the future of historic preservation. The organization was founded to broaden the understanding that our historic built environment is one of many non-renewable resources. Our goal is to educate youth about the environmental benefit that lies in historic resources and build an identity with those resources so that when they mature and become developers, city employees, real estate agents, and even homeowners, they consider reusing the resources that confront them as opposed to jumping to demolition as a first and only option.

I have seen that we are too often ‘preaching to the choir’ in preservation. Our advocacy groups hold mixers for preservation circles and even their workshops can be intimidating to the layman. Preservation in my region has not been relatable for our youngest residents, and that is what I want to change.

In reality, the foundation for our work has already been laid. Public schools, private schools, and households teach children about recycling and environmental conservation. And just as there is environmental conservation, we know there is heritage conservation. In my experience, children who have been taught about recycling are able to understand that just as you can recycle bottles, you can recycle buildings through adaptive reuse – and that is how we are hoping to change the future of historic preservation.

The notion that historic resources contain embodied energy is irrefutable, but it can also be difficult to understand and complicated to explain to children. As a consequence, one of the most convincing arguments for conserving our heritage has been left out of the discussion with our youngest residents. Bringing the environmental benefit, a key concern in today’s (and tomorrow’s) society, to the forefront of cultural heritage with youth can regenerate the conversation on a grander scale.

‘The Next’ aims to work with kids across Los Angeles County to teach them about the cultural and environmental benefits that lie within their own neighborhoods. We are preparing to conduct workshops in the form of after-school, weekend, and summer programming in partnership with other community and historic preservation partners.

Credit: Katie Rispoli

The first Taco Bell in Downey, CA as it looked in the 1970s. We Are the Next is coordinating the relocation and reuse of the building. Credit: Katie Rispoli

In an effort to ensure the children we work with do not forget our message, we are also working with the cities they live in to continue the legacy of their historic resources. All across Los Angeles County, cities with high-minority and low-income populations have been losing their heritage. These cities, which have a high proportion of vernacular architecture, have been losing neighborhoods and main streets to big-box shopping centers and spreading gentrification. These cities are lower in population than some of their neighbors and operate on much smaller budgets. Very few of these cities are Certified Local Governments or have any landmarks in their jurisdiction at the local, state, or national levels. Because these cities operate with less financial resources, the concept of developing a Historic Preservation or Adaptive Reuse Ordinance and maintaining a planning staff with preservation credentials seems daunting.

 

Credit: Katie Rispoli

The first ever Taco Bell in Downey, CA awaiting relocation and adaptively reuse a We Are  the Next project. Credit: Katie Rispoli

We Are the Next is operating as a consultant in order to provide these cities with a feasible resource. We are working with cities to help them find affordability in historic preservation performing construction management, forming community development and strategic plans, writing ordinances, and providing historic preservation planning services so that these smaller cities can afford to bring both historic landmarks and the corresponding environmental sustainability to their residents.

In Washington, I was able to discuss these ideas with preservation advocates and professionals from across the country with resounding support. While in DC, I visited Capitol Hill where I was able to secure a meeting with a staffer to one of the Congressman who represents a significant portion of Los Angeles County, and was given high support for our organization’s activities. Though the Congressman whose office I visited has not expressed consistent support for historic preservation, he is an advocate of environmental health and sustainability. I was able to share with his adviser the connection between these two interests as well as demonstrations of some of our recent projects. She was very interested and appeared convinced that historic preservation should be an interest of the Congressman since it is parallel to environmental health.

Our focus on youth, relatability, and environment has brought abundant support for the organization. Since we were founded nine months ago I have sought out potential partners and we have been approached to develop additional alliances with like-minded groups across the county. We are beginning programming with local schools and educational organizations, and have been contracted by cities for construction management services. Though we are still very small, this organization has been able to see some success in its first year and I am honored to say it is showing promise moving forward.

We Are the Next – “And So Are You.”

Learn more – www.wearethenext.org | facebook.com | @next_nonprofit
Katie Rispoli is a current graduate student in the Master of Heritage Conservation program in the University of Southern California School of Architecture, and will graduate in May of 2015. She is passionate about environmental health, cultural heritage, and youth education through preservation. Katie works in Preservation in South Los Angeles County as the Director of We Are the Next, a nonprofit organization. When not working or in school, Katie enjoys splitting her time between exploring both the city and the great outdoors.

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Apply Now for Advocacy Scholars – Deadline Oct. 31

By Guest Observer August 27, 2014
Members of the the North Carolina Delegation from University of North Carolina Greensboro during Advocacy Week 2013, pictured here with Representative Richard Hudson. Photo: Preservation Action

Members of the the North Carolina Delegation from University of North Carolina Greensboro during Advocacy Week 2013, pictured here with Representative Richard Hudson. Photo: Preservation Action

Deadline October 31!

Historic Preservation Advocacy Week is an annual event bringing over 250 preservationists to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to advocate for stronger federal preservation policies. This year, the Preservation Action Foundation will be offering a limited number of scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students to attend the important event. The award includes complimentary registration to Advocacy Week in March 2015 and a $500 stipend.

The Advocacy Scholars Program is open to undergraduate and graduate students in Public Policy, Historic Preservation, History, Law, Planning, Architecture or related programs. Submissions must be emailed education@preservationaction.org by October 31st. Note Advocacy Scholar in subject line.

Selected Advocacy Scholars will be notified by January 5, 2015.

Submissions must include:

1. A cover letter stating your interest, any previous legislative or advocacy experience and how participating in the program will contribute to your academic and professional goals.

2. A 1,500 word essay on either of the following topics:

National Heritage Areas@30: In 2014 Congress considered multiple requests to designate new National Heritage Areas, even though the program faces continued financial and legislative challenges. Why is this large landscape program so compelling and what is its future? Give us your thoughts.

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 established policy to protect our nation’s cultural resources. Preservation Action was founded by advocates to make historic preservation policies a national legislative priority. How do people who value preservation continue to take a stand? How to engage the next generation of historic preservationists and advocates?

3. Proof of academic enrollment.

For more information, www. preservationaction.org/scholars or contact Trisha Logan, Vice Chair of Development for Preservation Action at education@preservationaction.org.

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