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.

Friday, May 25, 2018

May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 4: Items 42-60 (Cultural heritage tourism)

(I realize for next year that this entry should be first, because it's things to do. I'll run that on the first day of May. And then the other three posts on succeeding Fridays.)
This post is updated and expanded annually, to encourage us to acknowledge and celebrate historic preservation, ideally not only during Preservation Month but throughout the year, by pointing out things that we can see and do.

-- "May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 1: Learn; Get Involved (1-16)"--
-- "May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 2: Explore your community (17-33)"
-- "May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 3: Preservation At Home (34-41)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 4: Cultural Heritage Tourism (42-60)

Cultural heritage tourism is the segment of tourism and visitation where people "consume" culture-related attractions, events, and places.  Cultural tourists tend to stay longer, spend more, and spend more "locally."  Of course, the great thing about making places great for ourselves is that they are attractive to visitors, and the money they spend while visiting supports the local economy.

-- Cultural Heritage Tourism, Partners for Livable Communities

At the same time, we have to be conscious of our footprint, because places can become "touristified" and the local offer shifts from locally-serving commerce to tourist-serving activities (think junky souvenirs and Spring Break type drinking establishments).

 The use of nonstandard accommodations through Airbnb or Home Away can also be controversial because these properties can remove housing from the normal residential rental market ("Statistics and data on whether Airbnb puts up rent prices," Business Insider).

While most cities charge a variety of "tourist" taxes (extra taxes on hotel stays, rental cars, and meals), some impose separate fees--a fee for being there--and other cities are considering this ("Barcelona plans day tax for tourists," London Telegraph).

From a planning perspective, interestingly, in Passaic County, NJ, the Transportation Plan raised the idea of treating historic transportation corridors as opportunities for historic interpretation and cultural tourism, and the county has further developed the idea as part of the county's Heritage Tourism Plan.

(The National Trust for Historic Preservation used to focus on cultural heritage tourism, which is one of the ways I learned about the field, but they have de-emphasized this in recent years.

Like how the Main Street program can produce "resource plans" for local commercial district revitalization programs, they used to produce similar cultural heritage development plans, but other organizations still do so, such as the policy studies program at the University of Delaware, and their proposal for Sussex County as well as academic tourism programs.)

Visitor centers as resources.  Many cities, counties, and state tourism and/or "convention and visitors bureaus" sponsor "visitor centers" where people can get tons of information about the places they are visiting, and usually information about history and cultural is readily available there.  (For me, visitor centers are also a great place to learn about "best practices.")

-- "Why Miami-Dade has more visitor centers than any city in the U.S.," Miami Herald
-- Accredited Visitor Information Centres Portal, Tourism and Events Queensland, Australia

Historic preservation organizations.  Obviously, local historic preservation organizations at the city, county, or neighborhood level are a great resource for finding out about local points of interests, historic neighborhoods, and interesting architecture.

Many such websites include downloadable resources for walking tours, etc.

The April 2017 cover story of Southern Living Magazine featured Charleston, South Carolina. 

(FWIW, seeing Charleston and Savannah for the first time taught me about the value of historic preservation, but at the time thinking of my own community, how too often we take the historic features of our own city and neighborhood for granted.)

Magazines focusing on historic homes (Old House JournalThis Old HouseAmerican Bungalow) and regional travel (SunsetSouthern Living) and interesting travel (National Geographic Traveler) are also a good source.

-- Southern Living City Guides

Note that a community doesn't have to have the reputation of a Savannah or Charleston to have plenty of interesting historic features that are worth exploring.

Resources at local chapters of the American Institute of Architects. In many cities, AIA chapters often have multifaceted offices that also have exhibit spaces and bookstores, and offer information on a city's built environment that is useful for visitors.  The Philadelphia chapter is particularly noteworthy, and is located close to Reading Terminal Market.

Most major cities have a guide to local architecture published in association with the AIA and the Architecture Daily website also has a City Guides page.

Local bookstores.  Most communities have some premier, usually independent, bookstores, and these stores usually have a section of books on local history and places to visit.

42. Stay at a historic hotel in the city or a bed and breakfast located in a historic district. For example, the Tabard Inn in the Dupont Circle Historic District is one of the most romantic places in the city to have weekend brunch--out on the patio, during the spring, summer, and fall.

Pittsburgh Trip - Priory HotelI'm a big fan of the Priory Inn (Flickr photo by Two Ks) in Pittsburgh, which is in the Northside district, but an easy walk over the river into Downtown, near various Northside cultural institutions (and football and baseball if you're into that), etc.

Kennedy School in Portland, Oregon is a B&B in a former school, etc.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has an affinity group, Historic Hotels of America, a collection of particularly distinctive and historic hotel properties.  NTHP members get discounts.

But the Standard Hotel in Los Angeles isn't a traditional historic hotel--it is remade from an office building constructed during the art deco area for an oil company--and it's very cool!  There are an increasing number of such hotel properties across the country.

Old neon signs, like this one for Groff's Restaurant, hang in the Doo Wop Preservation League museum in Wildwood. Photo: Dale Gerhard, Atlantic City Press.

All kinds of buildings can be historic, from motels in the Doo Wop Motel District, technically named the "Wildwoods Shore Resort Historic District" in Wildwood, NJ ("Wildwood's doo wop architecture, appeal finding new generation of younger fans," Atlantic City Press), the art deco district in Miami Beach, or the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City., HomeAway, Airbnb, etc. are great sites for finding places to stay in neighborhoods, including historic districts. Not only do you more directly support the local economy (typically, hotels are owned by noncity interests and most of the room rental revenue doesn't stay local), but you can--if it's your way--have a much better, more local experience.

As examples, we've stayed in a house on Forsyth Park and a converted church building both in Savannah, a rowhouse in North Beach in San Francisco, and a basement apartment in Capitol Hill in Seattle and we experienced those places much more like local residents.

When you visit other places, check out how they deal with historic preservation matters, and share that learning when you come back. For example, every fall, Pasadena Heritage sponsors Craftsman Weekend, in honor of its bungalow heritage.

43. Don't forget to check out traditional commercial districts, antique shops, other stores, cinemas, theaters, concert halls, restaurants, historic cemeteries, etc. as a regular part of your travel itinerary.

44. Check out a historic library building/Central Library.  Another great place to learn about a community when you're traveling is the main library.  Some of the buildings are historic, others more recently are majestic new construction buildings very much worth visiting.  .

Pictured at left, the Handley Memorial Library in Winchester, Virginia is particularly grand.

A number of DC's libraries were built with support from the Carnegie Foundation (Northeast, Southeast, the old Carnegie Library downtown, Takoma, and Mount Pleasant, which is particularly gorgeous) as were more than 2,000 other libraries elsewhere in the US.

Big city libraries tend to be pretty awesome, but as Winchester, Virginia proves, there are such jewels in cities of all sizes.

45. Visit historic sites.  Many people visit historic sites when traveling.  Across the United States, ("The shortest route to America's 49603 historic sites," Washington Post) there are almost 90,000 places listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

46. Go see a museum exhibit relevant to urban history, even if it's on a seemingly broader topic. When people travel, and "consume" locally available museums, usually people's trips start and end with the local arts museum.

But most cities have history museums as well, and they are well worth visiting.  In New York City there is the Museum of the City of New York, the New-York Historical Society, the NYC Transit Museum.  The Morgan Library has relevant exhibits, etc.  The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley outside Winchester, Virginia combines history and art.  The Valentine Center in Richmond, Virginia is excellent, as are the museums in Greater Williamsburg, the Pittsburgh History Center, etc.

While it's a national example, at the National Museum of American History, the exhibit on transportation history, "America on the Move" is superb.

Part of that exhibit uses Washington as an example specifically. But in any case, it explains the role of transportation in urban and regional development, and will give you a lot of insight into these issues as they relate to any region.

47.  Walking and building tours.  Many communities have organized walking tours for historic areas. Some print booklets for self-guided tours, many places have smartphone tour apps, and cities often have historic marker and trails programs.

In New York City, the Municipal Arts Society offers tours.  In Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Center is a staging point for tours.  In San Francisco, the City Guides organization provides free tours led by volunteers.

48. Bicycle touring.  Bikes are a great way to cover a lot of ground more quickly.  And it's less tiring to bike than it is to walk.  Many cities have bike rental operations (there is a loosely affiliated group called "Bike and Roll" operating in many cities).  And some hotels and B&Bs make bicycles available to their guests.  (There are even apps for renting bikes directly from individuals, like Spinlister, which can be cheaper than the bike rental places.)

Me on a Bixi
Me on a Bixi bicycle sharing bike in Montreal.

Bike share operates in many cities and can be a good way to get around, although to be cost effective you need to be clued in to how the system works.

Usually you can buy a short term pass, for a day, a few days, or a week, and this entitles you to unlimited free trips of 30 minutes duration.

But if any individual trip lasts for more than 30 minutes, you will be charged additional fees, which usually escalate with each additional 15 minutes to half hour.

But as long as you keep your trips to 30 minutes, no additional fees will be charged.

The Divvy bike share system in Chicago sometimes offers neighborhood tours as a promotional effort, although these are targeting residents.

It would be great for bike sharing systems, working with local convention and tourism bureaus, to develop a little better the opportunity of bike tourism--it would increase usage during slack times, would introduce people to the concept, and make a little money.

As an example, Choose Chicago has a webpage, "DIY Tours: Chicago's Riverfront by Divvy Bike," promoting bike share as a way to explore parts of the city..

49.  Transit as a way to get around.  While not many cities in the US do this, many European cities set up or promote specific transit services as a way to tour parts of the city, usually a set of tourist-oriented attractions in the core ("Travel around the city by tram," Visit Helsinki).

If you're already familiar with how to use transit, it usually isn't hard to figure out how to use another transit system.  If you don't regularly ride transit, likely people will be happy to help you.

Pierce Transit Bayliner, waterfront transit serviceThe old "Bayliner" bus used by Pierce Transit in its special waterfront service was decorated with images related to the sea.

Many cities have "Circulator" bus routes focused on the core that can aid "traveling by tourists."

Most cost money, some are free (Baltimore, Raleigh, North Carolina).  Tacoma, Washington is re-introducing a waterfront access transit service.

Some transit agencies publish special brochures and webpages for visitors, but CVBs and transit agencies need to work more closely together on facilitating visitor use of local transit, if only for "transportation demand management" purposes.

-- CTA Visitor Information - Using Transit in Chicago, Chicago Transit Authority-- Visitor's guide to public transit, City of Vancouver
-- MetroCard City, NYC MTA
--- Visitor's Kit, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

Some cities--not DC--have bundled transit access into specially priced tourist passes, such as the City Pass in San Francisco, which includes unlimited use of the MUNI transit system including the cable cars and the vintage streetcars as well as regular bus and light rail services.

To get the best prices on fares, likely you'll have to buy a local transit fare card, rather than paying for each ride as you go.  Depending on the system, the type and price of available passes, and how long you stay, it may or may not be worth buying a transit pass.

50.  When we travel, we like to visit house museums.  For example, the Woodford Mansion in Philadelphia is really cool, and Savannah has many different house museums that you can visit, the most notorious being the Mercer-Williams House.  Most cities have at least one.  Los Angeles has just reopened the Hollyhock House.

51. Arguably, "antiquing" which for me includes ephemera, can be a form of historical/historic preservation-related research and is deserving of a separate entry.

While traveling, you may wish to check out reclaimed building materials stores too.  You'll probably have to do some digging to find such organizations, but offhand I know there are such places in New York City, DC (Suburban Maryland), Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Detroit, York and Scranton, Pennsylvania, etc., plus the various Re:stores run by local affiliates of Habitat for Humanity.

52.  Visit a historic railroad station, bus terminal and/or a transportation museum.   There are many fabulous extant railroad stations, many no longer in use, in so many cities.2013 was the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Station in New York City, and in Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles new master planning and/or construction improvement projects for stations in those cities are underway.

Photo of the exterior of The Grey Restaurant, Savannah by Emily Andrews.  

Greyhound, the inter-city bus company, was known for in the 1940s and 1950s, the construction of dynamic bus terminals featuring art deco/streamline design.

Savannah's Greyhound Bus Terminal has been transformed into a sleek restaurant ("How a Greyhound station in Savannah became a hit new restaurant," Washington Post).

The Illinois Railway Museum runs trains and streetcars on its site, including the art deco/streamline designed Nebraska Zephyr, of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.

Nebraska Zephyr.  Arlington (IL) Daily Herald photo.

-- list of railroad museums

While they don't promote "sustainable mobility" classic car shows and museums are still interesting and great opportunities for learning and seeing something different.

-- National Association of Automobile Museums

53. Visit a streetcar museum.   Many communities have streetcar/transit museums such as the Baltimore Streetcar Museum and the National Capital Trolley Museum  in Montgomery County, Maryland in this area.  So try to ride a historic streetcar as well.

Photo of a Kenosha streetcar by Brian Gardner.

54.  Ride a streetcar system in active service. Some places run heritage streetcars in active service.  Everyone knows about the streetcars in New Orleans (and that system continues to expand in bits and pieces).

San Francisco's F Line/Market Street Railway is an active transportation museum, featuring vintage streetcars painted to represent various streetcar systems from around North America.

The cars are restored with the help of volunteers, organized as the Market Street Railway. Membership in the group entitles you to their quarterly newsletter, which is fabulous.

But historic/"old" streetcars run in many places in regular service: Boston; Dallas; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Little Rock; Memphis; Philadelphia; Tampa, Toronto (the current cars date to the 1980s but the system has remained in operation for a long time); etc.

In the summer, on weekends, the Toronto streetcar system runs a heritage car on the waterfront ("TTC's vintage streetcar a great way to see harbourfront on Sundays").  Portland used to do something like this, but no long does.

San Francisco also has the cable cars, which are a designated National Historic Landmark.
San Francisco Cable Car
Cable car in San Francisco.  Flickr photo by Jon Robson.  Cable cars are mostly a tourist attraction, but depending on where you live and work in the city, they are also a working element of the public transit system.

Not to mention new streetcars such as in Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, etc. Memphis re-created part of its historic trolley system, which runs Downtown and in the riverfront district, in 1993.

And note that the South Shore Line, an active transit service connecting Northern Indiana to Chicago, is the nation's only extant interurban railroad service--there once hundreds of such systems across the country, but their moment as an elemental mode in the transportation system was brief, snuffed out by the combination of the rise of the automobile and the Depression.
South Shore Line
South Shore Line train in Michigan City, Indiana.  Flickr photo by Tony Lau.

Reading Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places by John Stilgoe will help you look at the outside environment in new ways.

55. Tour a historic trail, road, railroad, canal, park network, or parkway/greenway.

The C&O Canal Trust has restored some of the canal lockmaster quarters, which people can stay in.

-- Great Allegheny Passage (biking)
-- National Scenic Byways Program

The National and State scenic byways programs draw attention to these opportunities, and information from these programs is usually made available at visitor centers.

Minneapolis has recently upgraded its Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System, which connects Downtown sites, neighborhoods and the city's park system including lakes, the Mississippi River, and Minnehaha Creek.

Salt Lake City has created a bike loop not quite 14 miles long, linking various points of interests and the route is signed with special "Cycle the City" signage (Brochure and map).

56.  Garden Tourism. Garden tourism has two different strands.

The first focuses on public gardens such as the National Arboretum in DC, Roses Garden in Portland, Oregon or San Diego, and large scale local arboretums like the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, or the Morton Arboretum outside of Chicago. Usually such facilities are open all year.

The second is special event public access to normally what are private gardens.

One such program is Virginia's Historic Garden Week--held every year the last week of April--and sponsored by the Garden Club of Virginia. 

Another is how GardenWalk Buffalo sponsors a weekend of events, this year on July 29th and 30th, where people can tour gardens across the city.    (It's supposed to lead into a six week program that they call the "National Garden Festival.")  Both organizations use monies raised from their programs to support beautification and restoration projects.

These larger scale events are complemented by various locally organized events and programs, such as Garden Tours in the Georgetown and Shepherd Park neighborhoods of DC.

University Avenue in Toronto.

There is an interesting article ("Hidden landmarks: Why Toronto is at the forefront of the landscape architecture movement") in the Toronto Globe and Mail about that city's place in landscape architecture, which is perhaps deserving of a separate item for landscapes and urban design. From the article:
University Avenue may be the least wild place in Toronto, with eight lanes of traffic running between great walls of stone and concrete. But it’s a landscape. Look around: On the islands in the boulevard, lawns, copses, planters, fountains and benches form a modernist tapestry all the way from College to Richmond Street.

To Charles Birnbaum, this is a valuable piece of history, a work of design with “a pedigree that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Toronto,” explains Mr. Birnbaum, the head of the Cultural Landscape Foundation. Speaking from his office in Washington, he enthusiastically runs through the history of those traffic islands: The landscape designer André Parmentier planted the avenue in 1829; it was reshaped in the 1920s in the Beaux-Arts style; and in the 1960s, the current landscape was designed by the British-born architect Howard Dunington-Grubb to cap the newly built subway. It includes perennials, statues and vent stacks.
And as an example, the American Society for Landscape Architecture has produced three area guides (usually in association with their national conference) which discuss monuments, sites, neighborhoods and other points of interest from the landscape architecture perspective.

-- The Landscape Architect's Guide to Boston
-- The Landscape Architect's Guide to Portland
--  The Landscape Architect's Guide to Washington, DC,

57. Visit a heritage area/heritage park.  Somewhat different from a specific site is the concept of state or nationally designated "heritage areas," based on the organizing framework of the cultural landscape, addresses heritage preservation and cultural interpretation over a large district sharing a common identity, history, and theme.  Heritage areas are networks of sites, attractions, historic districts and other features.

The Alliance of National Heritage Areas is a support organization for nationally-designated heritage areas.  There are more than 40 such areas including cities like Baltimore and the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area: Blue Ridge Mountains, which includes Asheville, North Carolina.

Separate from the federal program of National Heritage Areas, which are designated by Congress (so it can be a somewhat political process), many states have their own programs. Some, like Maryland or Pennsylvania, call them "heritage areas," while certain states like Connecticut call them "heritage parks."

-- Map of heritage areas in New York State

Baltimore started out with a state-designated heritage area -- and I've argued that DC should use the heritage area concept as an organizing tool to manage and present the city's cultural resources -- which later was nationally designated.

A newer heritage area is the Thames River Heritage Park in Connecticut, promoting and linking cultural sites in Groton and New London, which are across the river from each other, and home to many great sites, shopping districts, etc.

Last summer they launched water taxi service for visitors wanting to see sites on both sides of the river.

-- Thames River Heritage Park Master Plan

58. Ride a passenger rail train.  Ride a passenger railroad (commuter) train.  In the DC region, that means MARC or VRE.  In Greater New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia (SEPTA), Chicago, and Boston (as well as Toronto and Montreal), Southern California, Northern California and elsewhere commuter railroads provide passenger rail services once provided by private railroad companies.

The Norfolk Southern Railroad, in association with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, is running steam engine passenger train excursions in various places on their system.

(Union Pacific has decided to restore a steam locomotive--it will take some time--and run similar kinds of excursions beginning in 2019, which is the 150th anniversary of the driving of the "Golden Spike" and the creation of a transcontinental railroad system. See "Big Boy steam engine to start journey to Wyoming on April 28" from the Los Angeles Times.)

Amtrak's National Train Day is one way to acknowledge and celebrate railroad history and passenger train service.

There are many special scenic railroad organizations and other riding opportunities too.  Children really love these experiences.

-- Tourist Railway Association
-- Heritage Rail Alliance

Perhaps the most prominent example is the railroad from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon Railway.  The trains used to be powered by steam locomotives, but they switched to diesels to reduce negative environmental impact.

59. Visit a national or state park. DC, for obvious reasons, has many nationally owned parks, the system of Fort Circle Parks works to preserve the forts built during the Civil War to protect the city from Confederate invasion. Fort Stevens, hidden behind a church on Georgia Avenue, around Quackenbos Street NW, was attacked by Confederate forces, and President Lincoln was up there and watched. Up Georgia Avenue a bit, close to Walter Reed Hospital, is a somewhat forlorn and neglected battlefield cemetery and monument honoring soldiers who died at the battle at Fort Stevens.

-- National Park Service, find a park
-- America's State Parks

60. Take a boat trip on a local river.  Many cities have water-based tours or smaller scale water taxi systems.  Boston, Seattle, New York City, and San Francisco have working passenger ferry systems. The Staten Island Ferry is working transit that's free and is a fun trip.

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