Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Downtown Phoenix Business Improvement District promotes historic buildings during National Historic Preservation Month

Orpheum Theatre, Phoenix. Photo: Lauren Potter.


Hmm, this sticks out so much because other business improvement districts aren't leveraging National Historic Preservation Month to call attention to historic assets in their districts.

Since Phoenix is the poster child of sprawl, it's hard to think about it in terms of "historic buildings," but they are there, in landmarks and in cool neighborhoods with historic architecture, for example the Roosevelt Row district of bungalows, which is now a thriving arts district.

-- "Celebrate Historic Preservation Month with these 7 Downtown gems," Downtown Phoenix Inc.

"Main Street" commercial revitalization programs are obvious candidates for doing something like this because they are revitalization efforts built on a foundation of historic preservation.

The article also calls attention to other state and local organizations--ArizPreservation Foundation, Preserve Phoenix, and Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition-- working on historic preservation.

Many downtown revitalization programs do develop and present brochures, walking tours, etc. on historic properties. But there are many more opportunities to do so than have been realized.

It bugs Suzanne that I want to stop in practically every visitor center that we pass by as we travel.

I consider such places--at least the ones that haven't dropped brochures in favor of digital screens--"best practice learning centers," because the promotional materials they hold are supposed to be the ultimate scintillation about what makes those places special, and usually the design of these brochures is also quite good.

(It took me years to figure out to file such brochures by state.  I still haven't gotten around to reorganizing these files into sub-files for commercial districts, historic preservation, arts, transportation, etc.)

Years ago I was struck by the visitor materials on architecture and place for the town of Bedford in Pennsylvania.   For a small community--the town has fewer than 3,000 residents and the county not quite 50,000 residents--they put many other places to shame in terms of the quality of their visitor marketing program.

In some communities, the main placemaking advocacy or architecture group, like Municipal Arts Society in New York City or the Chicago Architecture Foundation have an active schedule of tours and other programs, not just during Preservation Month, but throughout the year.

The Preservation Society of Charleston is prominently located in a corner building on the city's main Downtown shopping street, King Street.  Wikipedia photo.

Those organizations, business improvement districts like Downtown Phoenix, and visitor marketing organizations like Visit Bedford are great examples for other places in terms of upping the way they call attention to historic preservation as an element of place that is attractive to visitors through  destination development and marketing, but especially residents--a point that former Mayor of Charleston, Joseph Riley, always makes.

From Mayor Riley's standard speech:
Now downtown was like every downtown in America. It was dying, if not dead. People moved out. All the things we discussed today, and all the things we understand. We worked hard at it, and we all must work hard at it. It’s the hardest thing we do. But the reason we have to work hard at it is, that is our public realm. That is the most democratic space of a city. We cannot relegate the next generation of Americans to living in a community where things are increasingly privatized and where there aren’t the opportunities for mutual celebration. That’s what the marketplace means! That’s what downtown means! That’s why Main Street is so important!

You own the sidewalk. It belongs to you if you’re the richest person, the poorest person. You have the same equal enjoyment of it. It will never happen in the malls. The malls are wonderful and they’re convenient, but where the buildings come to the sidewalk, the public buildings, the shopping buildings, the marketplaces and the hearts of our cities are something that belongs to everyone, and at all costs we’ve got to work to save them and to make them more beautiful and to make them more inspirational places. That’s why we work so hard at it. It’s not just about the buildings. It’s about saving the public realm for human beings who need it in their cities. Every city needs a center, and human beings need centers.

Well, our downtown was like everyone else’s and we started with a program to show what the buildings used to look like, and get owners to fix them up. ...
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Interestingly, seeing King Street in Charleston and the Savannah Historic District, on a road trip with a college friend around 2000, helped me to better appreciate historic preservation aesthetically as well as its utility as a sustainable and successful urban revitalization practice.

The Preservation Society of Charleston even has a "store front" on King Street, which we visited.  More historic preservation organizations need to have such prominently located and visible offices in their own communities.

I came back to DC with the realization that my then neighborhood of H Street NE was no less beautiful than Capitol Hill or Georgetown or Charleston, just different.
Rowhouses on 8th Street NE (by Gallaudet University), Washington DC
Rowhouses on 8th Street NE (by Gallaudet University), Washington DC. Photo by Elise Bernard, Frozen Tropics.

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3 Comments:

At 5:34 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

Meh I much prefer h st to Capitol Hill due to better restaurants/bars/people and taller buildings on larger streets (the complex next to eastern market is pathetically short) but the rowhouse are significantly nicer in CH.

 
At 9:59 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Sure. The way of building was a little different in CH because it was earlier. Before real estate development became more production oriented, "developers" would develop one or a handful of lots at a time, and then use that money to do more.

There ended up being a great deal of variability as a result. Use of pattern books and manufactured materials like pressed brick and cornices and other features meant that there was a kind of organic coherence overall even while building by building there is great variability.

Same thing of course with Georgetown, which might even be "more spectacular" in terms of organic coherence within variability.

(Takoma Park is pretty cool too, if you like frame construction.)

But the point I was trying to make, evidently not clearly enough, is that something doesn't have to be high art to be beautiful. Sure we can say Georgetown is probably more beautiful than Capitol Hill and Capitol Hill more beautiful than H Street, and depending on how much you like Wardman style rowhouses (the pinnacle of production building, the "Toll Brothers" or Kaufman and Broad or Pulte Homes of their time) H st. is prettier than that, the fact is that they all have merit, all are beautiful in their own way (to be cliched!).

That's all I meant. Was just reading the City Paper, there was an article about Kingman Park being designated, and an economist is quoted about "this area isn't historic."

Of course his expertise in economic theory has nothing to do with historic preservation theory. Vernacular architecture and "ordinary" neighborhoods are historic. Not in terms of being associated with personages like George Washington, but as examples of ordinary history -- community development, urban development, architecture and the history of the building industry, how it reflects segregated development practices, etc.

That's deserving of designation, and protection from some of the worst excesses of flippers...

 
At 10:00 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

that should be "mass production oriented" or large scale housing development. E.g., Wardman developed areas of Columbia Heights with hundreds of rowhouses, while production in older neighborhoods was on a much smaller scale, involving many more actors.

 

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