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.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Massachusetts rail planning

MBTA, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, runs commuter rail, subway and light rail in Boston, and bus services, while the Massachusetts Department of Transportation supports other rail services elsewhere in the state. (Separately, the Charlie Card transit fare card in Boston also works on bus systems across the state.)

WRT Greater Boston, advocacy groups and foundations like the Conservation Law Foundation, the Barr Foundation, A Better City, MassInc Gateway Cities project, and Transit Matters (Regional Rail for Metropolitan Boston) have produced studies, reports, and articles about ways to better utilize the area's transit infrastructure, in particular the commuter railroad system.

There are four rail planning initiatives underway.

Rail Vision is looking at repositioning the MBTA commuter rail service both to provide more frequent service to and from Boston, more along the lines of European passenger rail systems such as in Berlin, Hamburg, London, and Paris.

The initiative outlines 7 different alternatives.

The website includes a link to a "peer rail systems" report, Peer Systems Review: For Domestic and International Rail Systems, which includes both North American and international examples.  It's mostly all data and not much narrative.  Having more narrative would have been helpful.

I didn't realize how many lines MBTA has--14--more than all the peer systems, except for London, which has 15 rail routes.

A cursory look at the data shows the impact of population density and geographic reach. European systems tend to cover a much smaller area and have greater ridership, leading to better financial outcomes, more frequent service, etc.

The second initiative is the South Coast Rail expansion project which will restore commuter rail service to Southeastern Massachusetts, including the cities of Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford, which are within 50 miles of the city center.

Service is supposed to start by 2023, by extending from the Plymouth Junction station on the Middleborough line.

The second phase, to open by 2030, will be electrified and extend the Stoughton Line to Taunton and East Taunton, and then provide through service to the two branches being built in phase one, disconnecting them from the Middleborough Line.  (All told though, this will provide service to fewer than 10,000 additional daily riders.)

Springfield.  Last year more frequent rail service to Springfield, Massachusetts from Hartford and New Haven Connecticut was launched by extending CT Rail train service north into Massachusetts as well as extending commuter rail service to Amtrak trains serving this corridor. The commuter rail fare schedule has been extended to the parallel service from Amtrak along the corridor.  For service to New York City, there are connecting services in New Haven, but also some Amtrak trains provide through service.

CTRail (Connecticut Rail) train service network diagramSpringfield Republican photo by Frederick Gore.

Later this summer, train service on the line will be extended on a multi-year test basis, from Springfield, to Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield, Massachusetts ("Greenfield to see extended passenger rail service by end of summer," Greenfield Recorder).

Greenfield is about 40 miles from Springfield.  This will be done by extending Amtrak trains in each direction, where currently service from New York City terminates at Springfield Union Station.

-- New Haven – Hartford – Springfield Rail Program (NHHS), MassDOT
-- Trains in the Valley rail advocacy group

East-West Rail StudyThis planning process aims to provide rail service from Boston, westward to Pittsfield (from which service could be extended further west to Albany thereby connecting to New York area services).  The process is in its earliest phases.

This op-ed ("Keep East-West Rail on Track," Springfield Republican) criticizes an interim proposal for express bus service on the Massachusetts Turnpike, seeing it as competition for a superior train service.  It makes the point that the Turnpike route is somewhat distant from the core of the cities that would be served by the train, making the bus service more indirect and slower.

Still, it's worth putting bus service forward as proof of concept, it could be branded as an East-West transit service, much like how the GO transit service in Greater Toronto uses the same branding for buses and trains, and it would provide better connections now.

MassInc Gateway Cities initiative on "Transformative Transit-Oriented Development." Separately, MassInc, an advocacy/good government group has been promoting the Gateway Cities Initiative to strengthen the economies of legacy cities in the state both inside and outside of Greater Boston, such as Springfield, Fall River, and Worcester.

Last year they released a report, The Promise and Potential of Transformative Transit-Oriented Development in Gateway Cities, which recommends a more purposive program for leveraging access to transit for land use, development, and economic growth.

I think this is an important initiative because the reality is that all train stations are not created equal in terms of their ability to capture and expand community economic development.

Tracks and platforms behind Springfield Union Station, showing the area around the station in 2017, before the extension of CT Rail service.  Photo: Trains in the Valley.

This is not a new phenomenon. Traditionally, train stations distant from a core city have minimal economic activity and housing around the station, while train stations in cities and towns, especially main stations but also secondary stations, are typically much more economically active, although this varies, and has to take into account the period of urban decline from the 1950s to the early 2000s, when inner city location often was not prized.

By contrast, I am often critical about attempts to do "transit oriented development" at commuter railroad stations outside of the core, because for the most part these stations are on the outskirts of their respective metropolitan areas, in areas where the overall land use pattern and context, from the standpoint of the New Urban transect, is not very dense (T2/T3).

A related issue is whether or not the railroad stations are in fact key elements of their local communities or disconnected pods used by people from elsewhere in the region.

Parking is always full at the Halethorpe station.  Patch photo.

For example, while adjacent to the Arbutus community in Baltimore County, the highly used Halethorpe MARC railroad station is used not by residents from the immediate neighborhood, but people who drive to the station from around the metropolitan area who appreciate that the station is easily accessible from the Baltimore Beltway (I-695).

If you were to develop Halethorpe intensively for "smart growth" reasons, the desired impact likely would not occur, because the land use around the station is low density single family residential, with a small town center.

The challenge then is to figure out how to do this so that the transit infrastructure is leveraged, but the local community economy is also strengthened.

MassInc event in Fitchburg. To this end, MassInc is sponsoring a workshop in Fitchburg, Mass., on Tuesday May 21st. (I would argue the minimal number of train riders--under 750 per day--from this community proves my point about leveragability.)

From the press release:

The Massachusetts Institute for New Commonwealth (MassINC) brings discussion about Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) to Fitchburg

WHAT: Central Massachusetts Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) Regional Forum
WHEN: May 21, 2019,1:45 pm - 4:30 pm (Walking Tours, Presentations, Panel)
WHERE: Fitchburg Art Museum, 185 Elm St, Fitchburg, MA 01420


MassINC's Gateway Cities Innovation Institute will host an event on Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) on May 21, 2019 at the Fitchburg Art Museum in downtown Fitchburg. The conversation features an afternoon of activities designed to bring stakeholders from Central Massachusetts Gateway Cities and surrounding communities together to discuss the promise and potential of improved transit service in advancing economic and regional development. …

The afternoon of May 21 kicks off with two walking tours of downtown Fitchburg at 1:45pm, followed by a forum at 3pm in the Fitchburg Art Museum. The agenda includes opening remarks by Mayor Stephen DiNatale, a presentation of TTOD opportunities in the region by Dr. Corley of MassINC, a Rail Vision presentation by Alexandra Markiewicz of MassDOT, and a panel discussion about TTOD in the region. The panel includes Tricia Pistone, Montachusett Opportunity Council; Marc Dohan, NewVue Communities; Tim Murray, Worcester Chamber of Commerce; and Paul Matthews, 495/Metrowest Partnership. Roy Nascimento from the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce will moderate the panel. After a Q&A session, attendees will have an opportunity to network until 6pm.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 2, big picture planning

-- Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 1, leveraging Bike Month
-- Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 2, big picture planning
-- Part 3 to come: better bike planning in the DC area
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Although, federal transportation planning incorporates the bicycle as a mode, and offers plenty of technical assistance and guidance, the US lacks a national bicycle plan and strategy.

-- "What should a US national bike strategy plan look like?, 2014
-- "Are developers missing the point on eliminating parking minimums?: it's to promote sustainable transportation modes," 2012
-- "More bikes: elements of a Bicycle Friendly Community," 2015

Countries like Germany and Switzerland have such plans. Here's Denmark's, Denmark - on your bike! The national bicycle strategy.

-- Cycling Embassy of Denmark
-- Bicycle information portal, Federal Ministry for Transportation and Digital Infrastructure, Germany

A diagram from an old German bicycle plan helped clue me into thinking about bicycle mobility as a system.
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012

States and provinces around the world also can have great plans.  A couple standouts include Quebec, Canada and Victoria State, Australia.

1.  Plan for bicycle-based transportation as an integrated system.
2.  Have a national bike plan.

According to a Bicycle Dutch post on Delft, "1979 Delft cycle plan," Delft was one of the first communities to figure out that a key element of significantly increased bicycle ridership was the provision of a more complete "network" of connections that would make bicycling for transportation an efficient choice.  The focus wasn't on making a system separate from roads, which is how people think of the Dutch approach today, but on eliminating gaps that hindered people from making "complete trips" from and to various points.  From the post:
After the experiments in Tilburg and The Hague in the 1970s, where they built one very good (but also very expensive) cycle route, that had mixed results but didn’t lead to more cycling overall, Delft took a different and innovative approach. Delft wanted to improve the city’s existing cycle network, which had a lot of missing links. …

“We were determined to get a good network of cycle routes, not necessarily all on protected cycle paths, because we knew we couldn’t afford that.” André tells me, “And we already had good experiences with traffic calming of roads and streets.” It may be good to realise that there was no ‘zero’ situation in Delft. The presumption was, there were parts of a network, but with many missing links. The network of the plan already existed for about 75% (this includes traffic calmed streets and cycling infrastructure on distributer roads). The modal share for cycling before the plan was already 38%. …

To investigate what the people in Delft really wanted, the Ministry of Public Works hired a German sociologist and survey expert. This caused quite a commotion in the world of traffic experts and engineers at the time. Werner Brög from Socialdata in Munich, investigated 4,700 households (Delft was a city of about 80,000 inhabitants at the time). It was an in-depth investigation. People were visited at home and they weren’t just asked how they travelled where, they were specifically asked for their constraints, the reasons why they didn’t cycle to supermarket X for instance. The answers were very concrete: “because intersection Y doesn’t feel safe”, or “because canal Z forces me to make a detour of that many metres”. The response of the survey, 72%, was very high and helped the city to identify the most important physical, financial and mental barriers to cycling in the city.
3.  Focus on creating a complete bicycle route network within towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas, not exclusively on creating a separated network.

4.  At the metropolitan scale, there are a number of developing examples. One is the NCC Pathway Network in Ottawa City, Ontario, organized by the capital area planning organization. Others that come to mind are fortunate to enjoy foundation support.  In Akron, the Knight Foundation has been a key funder for the iTowpath bicycle trail project ("How improvements to Akron’s Towpath will better connect residents to the city," Knight Foundation; "Knight Foundation awards $500k grant for Towpath," Cleveland Plain Dealer), providing intra-city bike connections to the regionally-serving Ohio & Erie Canalway Trail.

-- planning process brochure
-- explanatory brochure

In Philadelphia, the Circuit Trail Network initiative enjoys the support of key foundations, especially the William Penn Foundation, which provide more than $8 million in a single grant (The Region’s Trail Network, The Circuit, Gets Major Boost," WPF).

Roughly half the funding for the Indianapolis Cultural Trail came from the Central Indiana Community Foundation, and a lead gift of $15 million from Eugene and Marilyn Glick.

15th Street Cycletrack, Washington, DCAlthough separated networks do help quite a bit.

5.  Metropolitan bicycle transportation planning should also include the provision of facilities such as cross-jurisdictional secure parking networks, maps (printed and digital), signage, air and repair equipment, etc.

Los Angeles County Metro's developing system of Bike Mobility Hubs is a good example of providing hub facilities at transit stations.  Victoria State's Parkiteer bicycle parking system is an example of a system of more than 100 parking nodes all using the same access system.  Transit stations in the Netherlands, Denmark, and the UK often have great bicycle parking accommodations, etc.

6.  Focus systematically on meeting the needs of all demographics, not just specific initiatives for women, African-Americans, etc.

See "Eight "mutual assistance programs" that can build support for biking as transportation on the part of low income communities."

7.  Focus on providing direct assistance to people in making the switch to bicycling as a primary transportation mode.

Transportation agencies are great at building infrastructure, providing maps, etc., but only the most information-driven people will adopt bicycling as a result of "objective reasoning."  This is one of the biggest gaps in bicycle planning. By contrast, many communities in the UK have programs where people can use a bike with helmet and lock for up to a month for a low fee (or free) to test biking for transportation without having to first buy a bike.

8. Adopt more innovative approaches for bicycle planning and presentation.  

A few months ago, I came across the bicycle planning process for Cuyahoga County, Ohio, called Cuyahoga Greenways.  The county plan proposes 240 miles of new trails, 151 miles of trails focused on eliminating gaps in the current system, and 571 miles of "local," supporting trails and multi-use paths providing connections to an expanded regional system.

-- presentation

Cuyahoga County Greenways Plan

It also laid out the proposals in terms of providing access to jobs and a larger proportion of the county's population, along with economic development elements, which I thought was pretty innovative. They also promote the health aspect of bicycling, although that isn't a new approach (although health is one of the primary reasons I cycle).

Cuyahoga County Greenways Plan

Cuyahoga County Greenways Plan

Note that Cuyahoga County also co-sponsors a biennial Greater Cleveland Trails and Greenways Conference, which is this year, on Thursday May 31st.  (Oops, the previous Bike Month post should mention holding an annual conference that month.

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9.  Institute national requirements for lights including turn signals, on OEM bikes made for transportation use (hybrids, etc., not mountain and racing bikes).  Currently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission either is forbidden from or chooses not to making such regulations.

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For DC, a congestion charge is not the way to go

One problem with a congestion charge, federal government vehicles probably would be exempt, and foreign embassies and organizations like the World Bank probably wouldn't pay.  Daily Mail photo, "Foreign embassies owe £75m in unpaid London congestion charges and U.S. diplomatic staff have racked up the most debt with fines totalling £8.1m."

WAMU-FM/NPR reports that DC City Council has allocated money to study the imposition of a congestion charge ("Should D.C. Toll Streets During Peak Traffic Periods? Council Wants To Study ‘Congestion Pricing’").

Congestion charges have two different purposes.

(1) reduce traffic by inducing people to shift trips to other modes or to not make trips altogether.  (And by reducing traffic, they help to speed up the remaining traffic, including surface bus transit.)

This is done through the classic recommendations of instituting a "tax" where spillover costs are not normally captured within pricing.

(2) provide an additional source of funding for transportation projects, ideally prioritizing sustainable mobility initiatives.

First, much of the metropolitan area's "worst" congestion is in the suburbs, and is on highways, not in DC proper, although getting to and from DC is one of the contributing factors.

-- "3 DC-area roads make list of America's 50 worst traffic bottlenecks," Fox5

Most studies that rank "DC" bad for traffic call the entire metropolitan area after the center city.  The fact is that DC does have a problem with congestion on certain streets in the core (K Street, I Street primarily) the reality is that most of the streets in the core aren't that congested.

Transit--Metrorail primarily despite its current problems--works!
Washington Capitals fans at the Gallery Place Metrorail Station
Washington Capitals fans exiting the Metrorail system.  One great thing about having the city's main arena in the core, served by 3 subway lines directly, and just a few blocks from 3 more lines, is how even a preponderance of suburbanites take transit to events held there.

I make this statement by the fact that during rush hour, it's possible to run red lights on a bicycle without any fear of oncoming traffic.

The major exception is the main commuter arteries such as 16th Street, Blair Road, Rhode Island Avenue, New York Avenue (itself congested because of the way it connects I-95 and I-695 for through trips to Virginia and Maryland). Although, some of this traffic would be interdicted I supposed by people switching to other modes in response to a congestion charge in Downtown.

Second, and most importantly, for DC to successfully levy a congestion charge, it has to be inalterably the #1 destination in the region for commerce subject to minimal competition for business relocation.

That's the case in cities like Singapore, Stockholm, or London, which have already instituted congestion charges, or New York City for Lower Manhattan, which has agreed to include a congestion charge going forward--not because they care that much about congestion, but because they need a funding source for rehabilitating the New York City Subway system.

I don't think it's the case for DC.  Especially with the current federal administration and its willingness to eliminate agencies altogether or move them outside of DC and the DC metropolitan area.

My paralyzing fear is that Maryland and Virginia would actively market business relocation against DC, making the point that you can get to their business districts without having to pay a congestion charge.

I don't think either state or its jurisdictions can really be trusted on this.

In fact, when I saw a presentation by the then planning director of Arlington County at the National Building Museum in 2002, I went up to him afterwards and suggested he retitle his presentation "how to kill DC."  That continues to be the case, given how Crystal City has just landed Amazon as a major tenant and Rosslyn has been landing corporate headquarters such as Nestle Foods.

Granted, you can argue that high occupancy tolls are a form of congestion charge. But some argue that the reason that Virginia made I-66 within the Beltway a toll road is to encourage businesses to relocate to Virginia from DC, thereby being able to get to and from a new location without tolls.

Alternative one: transit withholding taxIf the point of doing a congestion charge is raising funds, what I have recommended for years, but the federal government would have to agree, and it would be helpful for the suburbs to agree too, would be a transportation withholding tax.

It's done in France--providing a majority of the operating funding for transit service (France has successful light rail systems in many of its regional cities, not just in Paris), as well as certain areas of Oregon (Portland, Eugene), and for the MTA system in New York State (although I argue there it is too gross-grained, out-state residents served by railroads should pay less than core residents served by the subway--instead the same rate is assessed across the board).

-- "Commuter/mobility tax discussion for DC," 2012
-- "Metrolinx Toronto: 25 potential tools to fund transit-transportation infrastructure," 2013

Alternative two: commuter tunnel and transitway networkIf the point of a congestion charge is interdicting nasty traffic, in addition to investing in more and better transit, I have argued for the creation of some roadway tunnels on commuter arteries, e.g., North Capitol-Blair Road, to shift commuter traffic away from surface streets, because it has deleterious impact on the quality of neighborhood life.

These would be covered by tolls, not unlike HOT lanes. Maybe they wouldn't fully pay their way, but by shifting through traffic away from neighborhoods, it could be a cost worth subsidizing.
I-695 in DC looking west from 4th Street SW
The Southeast-Southwest Freeway (I-695) in DC looking west from 4th Street SW.


The program should include dedicated transitways.  DC will be testing some Downtown, and has implemented them on and off on 7th Street/Georgia Avenue NW. (Bus advocates in London argue that with dedicated transitways, bus throughput improvements would be even greater.)

-- "Dedicated bus lanes coming to H and I streets this summer," Washington Post
-- "It's been a drawn out process, but DC is in the process of creating transitways on 16th Street NW," 2017

This program could also include some road decking, such as on North Capitol Street and the Southeast-Southwest Freeway.

-- "Tunnelized road projects for DC and the Carmel Tunnel, Haifa, Israel example--tolls," 2011
-- "London Mayor proposes roadway tunnels to divert surface motor vehicle traffic and congestion" 2016
-- "Maryland HOT lane study versus "corridor management" and regional scaled transportation planning," 2018
-- "Who knew? There's been a freeway deck in Oak Park, Michigan over I-696 for almost 30 years," 2018

I haven't written about it, but tunnelizing DC-295/The Anacostia Freeway, would be a boon to the quality of life and economic potential of a large section of the city East of the River.
Anacostia Freeway (DC 295)


This video by Bossi of DC 295 has unrelated sound.  I'd turn it off before listening, unless you want to listen to an old Diane Rehm radio broadcast.

If we had true metropolitan transportation planning, the Maryland HOT lane study could be coordinated with a DC tunnel/decking study.  For example commuter tunnels on 16th Street and Georgia Avenue would make sense to be integrated into the Maryland system.

-- "Here's a look at who's using Northern Virginia's 495 and 95 Express Lanes," Washington Post, 2018
-- "Poll: 61 percent of D.C.-area residents favor plan to add toll lanes to Beltway, I-270," Washington Post

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May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 4: Preservation At Home (53-60)


This series 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.

The first post runs on the first day of May and the other posts on succeeding Fridays.

-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 1: Cultural Heritage Tourism (1-19)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 2: Explore your community (20-36)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 3: Learn and Get Involved (37-52)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 4: Preservation At Home (53-60)

I reorganized the series this year to put "things to do" up front, and the harder stuff "learning and volunteer" behind.

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Historic Preservation at Home

53. If you own "an old house," and want to learn more about historically sympathetic renovation, why not subscribe to relevant magazines such as Old House JournalOld House InteriorsAmerican BungalowThis Old House, Fine Homebuilding, etc.

You learn about historic architecture and details. They run features on interesting neighborhoods, places you can try to see when you travel. And the magazines offer good ideas of how to make historically appropriate changes in your own house.

Losing the interior details of historic homes in favor of newer designs, stainless steel appliances, "open concept" floorplans, etc., often reduces the historicity of a house to the equivalent of an envelope.

I hadn't been interested much in "the decorative arts" and interiors of houses all that much before, but having moved into a 1929 bungalow with a relatively intact interior, and including a 1930s Magic Chef Oven, I've become much more attuned and interested.

While I tend to prefer houses that are older, it's aimportant to acknowledge the preservation movement for houses (and buildings) of the recent past.  Publications focusing on that era include ModernismAtomic Ranch, and Midcentury Magazine from the UK.

54.  Publications on maintenance of historic houses.  Some historic preservation organizations publish good guides to maintaining "old houses."  The  Capitol Hill Restoration Society has published a number of bulletins on the architectural elements of neighborhood housing.

The Homeowner's Handbook to Historic Houses published by the Historic Macon Foundation has a chapter on "The Deterioration Cycle of Historic Homes," which explains the sub-systems (roof, exterior walls, etc.) within a house, the materials these sub-systems are constructed from, and how, with use and exposure to weather, they deteriorate.  It's followed by chapters on maintenance and historic preservation incentive programs unique to Georgia.

From Bungalow Maintenance 101.

Similarly, the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association publishes Bungalow Maintenance 101.

Manitoba's Heritage Building Maintenance Manual is excellent too.  Rehab Rochester is out-of-print, but available via archive.org.

The State of Ohio Historic Preservation Office sponsors a program called "Building Doctor," which holds "clinics" around the state, where they provide training on maintenance issues and do evaluations of specific houses that have been prearranged by appointment.  See "'Patients' receive old-home remedies" from the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The SAUGANASH WORKBOOK: A Guide for Building and Renovating in Sauganash is a community design guide for a historic neighborhood where many of the already large houses are targets for large-scale renovations and expansions.  The guidebook aims to help people come up with historically empathetic renovations.

Our 1930s Magic Chef stove/kitchen with a matching Venta-Hood in white with black trimWhile our stove dates to the 1930s, the hood vent we installed is modern, but uses a historic design and is color matched to our white stove.  The tin backsplash for the stove area is modern also.  

55.  Books to guide renovation.  Just as there are magazines, there are relevant books too.  Too many renovations of historic houses today are being done more in tune with today's design styles, when it is possible to do renovations that respect historic character and provide a great deal of charm.

For example, we have a bungalow, and Jane Powell has authored five books on the type, with great photos by Linda Swendsen:  Bungalow Bathrooms; Bungalow Kitchens; Bungalow Details: Exterior; Bungalow Details: Interior; Bungalow: The Ultimate Arts & Crafts Home.

Before we moved in, we knew we needed to do work in the bathroom and kitchen and just using Powell's books as picture books and guides, we were able to do sympathetic renovation that was congruent with the house and the original elements that still remained.

If you ever get to Winterthur Mansion in Delaware, I seem to recall that they have a great "museum bookstore" with a lot of books relevant to historic preservation and renovation.  Most architectural styles have at least some books devoted to their design, style, and renovation.

While focused on new construction, but applying traditional approaches the books by Sarah Susanka would be great resources for renovation of existing properties also.

56.  Parts and appliance resources.  There are companies that specialize in "historic" parts.  For example, DEA Bathroom Machineries specialize in bathrooms, especially historic sinks.

There are firms that specialize in restoring ovens, and companies like Big Chill produce new refrigerator appliances that "look old."

57.  Most big cities have architectural salvage stores, for example in the DC area, it's Community Forklift.  In Baltimore, Loading Dock is a non-profit while Second Chance is a for profit.

58.  Workshops and expos.  It would be logical to have "Preservation Expos" during Preservation Month but it doesn't seem to be the case.  Historic Chicago Bungalow Association holds workshops most months, and has building expos too, from time to time.

Historic Kansas City holds an annual Old House Expo, but in February. Last October, DC's Capitol Hill Restoration Society sponsored a similar event.

59.  Activities for and with children.  If you have children in your life, how about doing an activity with them that is architecture-preservation related?

Colonial Revival Cottage, coloring book page, RoanokeMany preservation organizations have produced coloring pages or books for children as well as offer educational activities, such as the Architectural Styles Coloring Book from Roanoke.

Perhaps there are similar kinds of houses in your community and you could do a field trip to houses with similar styles, and then the child could color the pages.

-- Architecture for Young Children webpage, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation
-- Center for the Urban Built Environment

The National Park Service publishes Junior Ranger Guides on Historic Preservation and Archaeology.

60. Television programming.  There are some HGTV/DIY network shows that are sympathetic to historic preservation, although the bulk of the shows are not.  Even the heralded "Fixer Upper," even if they renovate vacant houses, tends to homogenize the interior of a house into a gargantuan "open concept" house with a massive kitchen. 

But shows like "Rehab Attic," to some extent "Stone House Revival," and "American Rehab: Charleston" generally are pretty empathetic on historic preservation and can be a great source of ideas.  Lately I've been enamored by "Restored," featuring Brett Waterman working on houses in Riverside County, California.

Obviously, "This Old House," on PBS is the grand-daddy of all shows.  In my opinion, it's great for historic architecture and detailing, but the program tends to be more about supersizing houses, but doing a great job while you're doing so.  And they seem to let it slide when homeowners make decisions that somewhat cavalierly rip out historic elements in favor of modernization.

61.  Researching the history of your house.  There are people who will research this for you, but many city libraries have usable information and even may offer seminars on how to go about this.  Census records are one place, but more current records aren't accessible.

-- How to Research the History of Your House | This Old House
-- Internet Public Library: Research the History of Your House
-- Houses - The National Archives

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 1, leveraging Bike Month

In the DC metropolitan area, Bike to Work Day is the third Friday of the month of May, May being National Bike Month.

So that means this Friday, May 17th, is BTWD in the Washington metropolitan area.

-- "D.C. region gears up for a record-breaking Bike to Work Day," MWCOG

A few years ago, I interviewed Nick Ramfos, the director of Commuter Connections, the area's transportation demand management program offered by the area's transportation-related "metropolitan planning organization."

The conversation made me realize that we should "use" BTWD/Bike Month as an opportunity to assess where we are, offer recommendations for change, etc.

-- "Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 1," 2017
-- "Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 2, building a network of bike facilities at the regional scale," 2017

In 2019 this is particularly apt given the recent call for changes to DC transportation planning and design in response to recent particularly tragic and gruesome traffic deaths involving bicyclists and pedestrians.

This year I am breaking this down into two posts, one focused specifically on Bike Month, and the other on "the state of bicycle planning."

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Recommendations/Bike Month

1. From Bike to Work Day to Bike Month/Create a calendar of activities for the entire month. Here my concern is too much focus is on "the day" and not enough on creating a wide range of activities that promote biking as transportation throughout the month.

For example, Minneapolis Bike Week has events every day of the week, with Bike to Work Day as the premier event that it already is.

The basic idea is to make Bike Month, "a program".

Minneapolis Bike Week, calendar of events, poster

2. Transit agencies should have a set of model practices for participating in Bike Month..

3.  Bike Month should be used as the "launch month"/target date for the launch of new infrastructure and facilities, and bike map reprintings.

Bicyclist with a child in a rear seat carrier, Pennsylvania Avenue NW cycletrack
4. Sustainable mobility street closure events.  Every major metropolitan area should have open streets events.  In the US, CicLAvia in Los Angeles County is the most successful.

-- Open Streets Project
-- Open Streets Toolkit

Like how CicLAvia is held two to three times per year in locations throughout Los Angeles County, with the primary sponsor being LA Metro, the DC area should develop a similar program, with events held throughout the Metropolitan area.

(Although I argue a great place to start in DC would be on Massachusetts Avenue from 9th Street to Dupont Circle and beyond Dupont Circle, even as far as to Wisconsin Avenue).

The Spring event should be scheduled for Bike Month.

Transit/transportation agencies and the MWCOG should be the lead organizers and sponsors.

5. There should be a bike/sustainable mobility expo during National Bike Month.



6. In the DC area specifically, there needs to be greater focus on the opportunities to work with large employers, especially the federal government, using Bike Month as the launch event.

7. Build on nascent efforts and develop more systematic programs for engaging traditionally underrepresented demographics, particularly women and people of color, in Bike Week/biking for transportation activities ("Urg: bad studies don't push the discourse or policy forward | biking in low income communities (in DC) edition").

8.  Bike to School Day should be shifted to the Fall.  ("Bike to School Day is today, it should be in September or October").

9. Bike sharing programs should offer special promotions for National Bike Month and Bike Work Day. For example, the MoGo program in Detroit is offering free rides on May 23rd, the program's one year anniversary.  But it's a key month for launching new membership campaigns, during group rides, etc.
Cargo bicycle with food and child, Harris-Teeter Supermarket, 1st and M Streets NE, Washington, DC
Cargo bicycle with food and child, Harris-Teeter Supermarket, 1st and M Streets NE, Washington, DC

10.  Licensing for dockless bike share should include requirements for participating in transportation demand management programs, National Bike Month, Bike to Work Day, and other activities.

11. Membership for the League of American Bicyclists and local and state bike advocacy groups should have special pricing during Bike Month.

12. Special pricing for subscriptions to biking magazines like Bicycling, Momentum, Bicycle Times, etc. should be offered during Bike Month.

13.  Work with bike shops to have special sales promotions during Bike Month.  If we really want to promote reductions in car usage, let's get serious. For example, Paris is now providing incentives to buy bikes, cargo bikes, and e-bikes as a car reduction strategy ("Paris to offer subsidies to those who buy bikes, give up cars," Smart City Dive).  Universities often have discount programs for bike purchases.  At the very least, offer such promotions during Bike Month.

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Monday, May 13, 2019

National Tourism and Travel Week 2019: DC recap | DC needs a tourism development and management plan


May 5-11 was National Tourism and Travel Week with the theme "Travel Matters," and I wrote a bunch of pieces on the topic.

"(US) National Travel and Tourism Week, 2019: May 5th-11th " was an overarching piece while these pieces focused specifically on Washington DC.

-- "(US) National Travel and Tourism Week, 2019: DC's tourism tax revenue stream should support sub-city efforts" (Saturday)
-- "DC's local museums and sites need a combo pass for visitors" (Friday)
-- "DC should create an annual city-wide Doors Open event" (Friday)
-- "A visitor centers agenda for DC" (Thursday)
-- "Transit Wayfinding lessons from Japan" (Wednesday)
-- "While I do advocate for a strong local cultural plan for DC, there's something attractive about distributing busts of former presidents around the city?" (Sunday)

While my pieces definitely argue that DC proper could do a lot better in tourism development, management and marketing, ironically, last Thursday ("Record 21.9 million domestic tourists visited DC last year") the Washington Post reported that DC tourism experienced a record year in 2018, although the government shutdown was not an auspicious kickoff to 2019 ("DC hotels survive off-peak shutdown," WTOP-radio).

Of course, DC tourism does well, even with a nativist Executive Branch, because it is a key place for telling the national story of the United States, is home to high quality (but for the most part, not necessarily world class) federal museums, etc., and this is important to both domestic and international visitor markets.

The questions few people seem to be asking are around how good a job is DC doing in developing tourism as an element of the city's economic development programming and are there gaps that can and should be addressed within the offer?

The collective point of these entries is that DC needs a comprehensive Tourism Development, Management, and Marketing Plan.

I first made this point in 2005, in the blog entry, "We are all destination managers now." The basic point is that if we make places great "for us," they are attractive to others.

Having tourism discussed as part of the Economic Development Element of the Comprehensive Plan isn't enough. Although the National Capital Planning Commission, which is responsible for the Federal Elements of the DC Comprehensive Plan does have a Visitors and Commemoration Element.

It happens I've suggested a sub-city plan for Capitol Hill for at least 8 years, but the elected officials I talked to about this never really seem to grasp the point.

Tourism development plans. The first city tourism plan I ever came across was for Charleston, SC although the first iteration focused almost exclusively on transportation demand management. The second Charleston plan was comprehensive but had some recommendations that were justifiably criticized, such as its recommendations for accommodating cruise ships.

Many people argue about the touristification and overtourism within the city. In fact, last Wednesday's New York Times Food section had a great piece about this concerning the restaurant sector ("As Mainstays Depart, Charleston Asks Where Its Restaurant Scene Is Going") in Charleston, South Carolina.

But that's something plans can and should address.

Tourism development planning.  Most states and provinces in North America do quite a good job at tourism development, sponsor annual conferences, technical workshops, distribute technical assistance publications, etc. and that includes area states like Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.  Many cities do this also.  But DC is a laggard.

The right sidebar heading "Tourism Resources -- General" lists a number of such resources.  Although the list is likely in need of updating, and it's hardly comprehensive.

Kathy Smith's Capital Assets: A Report on the Tourist Potential of Neighborhood Heritage and Culture Sites in Washington, D.C. is a great starting point for assessing opportunities within DC, although as discussed in the series of entries, there are plenty of other gaps in the offer that need to be address beyond asset development.

For me, the point would be to have a standalone city-wide plan, not just a section in the Economic Development Element of the Comprehensive Plan.

It should also include sub-plans for specific areas of the city, such as Capitol Hill, Georgetown, and the "Trail Towns" along the Anacostia River.

And a recognition that how the tourism tax revenue stream is utilized needs to be broadened beyond the Convention Center and related assets, including direct support for destination development and marketing sub-districts of the city.
Washington DC section of attraction brochures, City of Fairfax Visitor Center
Washington DC section of attraction brochures, City of Fairfax Visitor Center


Cultural heritage tourism.  The kind of work that Kathy Smith did falls under the rubric of "heritage tourism."  The National Trust for Historic Preservation used to have a unit doing this kind of work and like with Main Street commercial district revitalization, they would help communities interested in pursuing this by pulling together a resource team to come to the city and produce an assessment and opportunity plan.

Grouping of three story rowhouses on Capitol Hill, Washington, DCDC's rowhouse neighborhoods are a distinctive element of the city's architecture and uniqueness.

While tourists seeking out cultural sites and experiences generally "spend more and stay longer" the reality is that DC is in the odd position of being consumed almost exclusively for its place in the telling of the national story.  So the city needs to work doubly hard to promote the local experience as complementary to and a line extension of the national narrative.

Cultural landscape as an organizing concept: managing the city as a whole.  A key concept in the planning of heritage areas--there are various federal, state, and local designations for heritage areas and parks--is treating the entire area as a "cultural landscape" and planning and managing resources at that scale.

-- Heritage Areas: Background, Proposals, and Current Issues, Congressional Research Service
-- Managing Historic Cities, UNESCO World Heritage Centre
-- THE ROAD TO SUCCESS - A NEW APPROACH TO THE MANAGEMENT OF HISTORIC TOWNS, URBACT
-- Economics of Uniqueness: Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Heritage Assets for Sustainable Development, World Bank
-- Alliance of National Heritage Areas (it used to include members of state and local heritage areas, not just federally designated heritage areas, but that's changed)

I argue that DC doesn't need to be a formally designated heritage area to manage itself like one.

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Saturday, May 11, 2019

(US) National Travel and Tourism Week, 2019: DC's tourism tax revenue stream should support sub-city efforts

Most cities and counties levy some form of what are called tourism taxes. Usually this includes a charge on hotel room stays*, rental cars, parking (although that's a charge on commuting as well), and a portion of meal taxes.

(Communities also reap tax revenues from income taxes on businesses and workers, and sales taxes on the sale of goods and services to tourists.)

Separately, some cities facing forms of overtourism are assessing capitation fees as a way to manage the flow of tourists and to mitigate some of the costs.

Additionally, many cities argue that some of the tourism tax revenue stream should be captured to support non-tourism related needs ("Potholes, water woes: New Orleans seeks more of tourist tax," Associated Press).

The majority of images used in the DC Cool tourism marketing campaign are generic "images of nowhere" and don't feature landmarks distinctive to DC.

This money is used mostly for three things: (1) to pay for convention centers, "convention hotels" and other tourist attractions depending on what is approved ("Nashville Music City Center: Absorbing more tax revenue than it needs?," Nashville Tennessean) and (2) tourism marketing, through what are called "destination marketing organizations" or "convention and visitors bureaus."

A number of cities also use this revenue stream (3) to pay for sports facilities ("How best to invest New Orleans' tourism tax revenue?," New Orleans Times-Picayune; "How tourism taxes will fund the new Rays Stadium," SBNation; "Report: Hotel tax revenue meant for Raiders' stadium falls short," USA Today).

DMOs usually market (1) convention centers (and the funding stream may support subsidies to land particular events), (2) develop marketing campaigns targeting various consumer travel market segments and travel professionals, (3) maintain websites and other strategic communications systems and products; (4) operate visitor centers; and (5) develop and distribute tourism marketing materials of various sorts including guides and maps.

An optional item (6) is the support of sub-city tourism efforts including "destination development" including the development of marketing campaigns.

I first learned about the concept of destination development in DC because of the work of Kathy Smith, who authored the book Capital Assets: A Report on the Tourist Potential of Neighborhood Heritage and Culture Sites in Washington, D.C., and founded the organization now called Cultural Tourism DC. DC's cultural heritage trails signage and brochure program is one of the programs launched by the organization.

Capital Assets identified local assets already visited by tourists; neighborhoods and sites that were "destination ready" with support; and areas and sites that were not ready for tourism.

Tourism Development Handbook by Godfrey and Clarke
Tourism Development Handbook is out of print, but except for one chapter on Internet marketing, it's still excellent. Another good resource is the Community Tourism Planning Guide by Nova Scotia Tourism.

As discussed in previous entries, DC's DMO doesn't operate a substantive visitor center, nor does it support the creation and operation of sub-city visitor centers, or have a systematic program supporting sub-city destination development.

Mostly it spends its time and money marketing the convention center.

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* I argue that "home stays" like Airbnb should still be subject to a community's regular hospitality-related taxes.

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Friday, May 10, 2019

(US) National Travel and Tourism Week, DC's local museums and sites need a combo pass for visitors

According to Matthew Gilmore's Washington DC History Resources blog, DC has more than 70 museums and historic sites that aren't federal.

Market development issues.  DC's locally significant cultural sites have two big marketing disadvantages.

First, most visitors see DC only in terms of the national story, which means that when they visit they focus on the national museums and sites associated with the founding of the US or the general story of the country and reifying national memory and narrative, such as the Mount Vernon Plantation in Northern Virginia, which was the home of George Washington, the nation's first president.

That means that the local institutions need to be comprehensively, regularly, and creatively marketed and promoted and they aren't.  It doesn't help that we have dis-coordinated visitor marketing in the city and metropolitan area.

Second, in the DC area, most of the federally-related sites: museums; monuments; historic sites; and national parks; are free, putting all but the most prominent independently controlled sites at a disadvantage, because those sites charge admission.

Plus, the federal sites don't distribute non-federal visitor information.

It's tough for non-federal cultural facilities to survive in DC.  An example of this is the failure of the original City Museum ("Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," 2007), the Corcoran Gallery (">Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?, "), but also more recently the Newseum ("Johns Hopkins to acquire Newseum building in Washington, D.C.," JHU press release: "What the Fall of the Newseum Says About News, and Museums," CityLab).  

The National Museum of Crime and Punishment shut down ("Crime museum is closing at the end of September," Washington Post), the Children's Museum has taken 15+ years to reopen after leaving DC originally for Prince George's County, although now it is back in DC ("New National Children's Museum will finally open Nov. 1 after a delay," Post), and the International Spy Museum recently relocated and changed their corporate status to nonprofit ("Will Tourists Follow the International Spy Museum to L'Enfant Plaza?," Washington City Paper).

Although, pretty much except for the International Spy Museum, all of these programs experienced some form of institutional failure independent of charging admissions.  On the other hand, having to charge in the face of a sea of free options, this made them vulnerable to anything but superlative operation.

City Passes.  Other cities don't have the same conditions.  Mostly, all sites have an admissions fee.  Most have visitor centers.  And there isn't competition over narrative.

Many of these cities have various visitor pass products, like "CityPass," which is a combo ticket that covers entrance into a set number of attractions, usually over a multi-day period, and depending, is bundled with some form of mobility.

MUNI CABLE CARS--25 at Washington/Mason IBFor example, in San Francisco the passes include access to all MUNI transit services for no additional charge, even the cable cars, which normally cost $7 per ride.

DC does have passes.  One of DC's tour bus companies offers the Go Card Explorer Pass.

But since most tourists are primarily interested in the national museums and monuments, it likely isn't a big player in the tourism market, except that it is marketed alongside tourist bus transportation.

The Go Pass offers access to Mount Vernon, the National Geographic Museum, Wax Museum, Newseum, Washington Cathedral, a Washington Nationals Ballpark tour, the National Law Enforcement Museum, Artechouse, National Building Museum, Hillwood Estates, Museum of the Bible, audio tours at two Smithsonian Museums, two walking tour options, a boat cruise to Mount Vernon, and a boat tour at The Wharf. + the choice of the Alexandria Key to the City Pass too.

The Go Pass actually has a good array of attractions to choose from, but depending on your choice, it covers only 3 to 5 places total.  That's comparable to other pass products, but given that most people are likely to focus on attractions related to the national narrative, locally-focused sites are likely to get short shrift.

Maybe Alexandria's Key to the City pass is a better model.  The City of Alexandria has its own museum pass product.  It's $15 and includes access to 9 city-focused sites, plus a 40% discount (a savings of $8) on Mount Vernon.

This is a good approach.  The Alexandria museum pass product focuses on local sites, anchored to a discount on admission to the area's premier nationally-significant site.

The discount is an inducement to experiment with visiting some additional locally-focused sites for less than $1 per site after factoring in the admission discount, making consumption of local cultural history a low cost "line extension" to their visit.


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Note that this 2017 entry, "A proposal for a DCResidentCulturePass in DC ," is a related discussion of how to promote local attractions to local resident audiences.

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(US) National Travel and Tourism Week, 2019: DC should create an annual city-wide Doors Open event

In "What would be a 'Transformational Projects Action Plan' for DC's cultural ecosystem" this is item #22.
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Create an annual city-wide "Doors Open" event for DC's local cultural institutions.  

"Doors Open" events were pioneered in Europe, and are when a community's culture organizations band together to provide a coordinated schedule of events, usually over a weekend or an entire week, where people get free access to various cultural sites and events, many of which are not normally open to the public.

In North America, Doors Open Toronto is probably the biggest.  The Toronto Star even publishes an event guide. (2011 Doors Open Toronto Guide)

But Open House New York Weekend  is increasingly a big deal.  Pittsburgh created one, Doors Open Pittsburgh.  And there are others.

In DC the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium has had a district-specific Doors Open event for many years, as do the art galleries on Upper Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, but including the participation of AU's Katzen Center for the Arts and the Kreeger Museum.

It's not exactly the same, but Georgetown Glow, an outdoor sculpture walk in December and January is growing into a great event.  CultureTourismDC sponsors a week of walking tours (they used to do it twice/year).  Etc.

Building on these events, DC should do an Doors Open event for the whole city but focused on local cultural assets, not "national" ones, from theaters to historic sites to houses to parks to museums, etc.

It should be used as a priming event to take integrated and comprehensive cultural planning to a new level.

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DC does a form of this for the arts, in an event called "Art all Night." I haven't been too supportive, because I think it's held for too short a time, a few hours, in too many neighborhoods--as many as eight--so that the less popular neighborhoods aren't likely to get a lot of visitorship.


That's a lot of work for little payoff.

Instead I recommend that the city do one "Art all Night" event each month, moving it around the city.

Last year there was a similar event sponsored by Halcyon House for outdoor art, called "By the People 2018," and again, I think it had the same problem, too many simultaneous events spread out over a great distance over a relatively short period of time.

Although it was held during the daytime and they had a shuttle service between the sites.

The art installations I saw at the Walter Reed campus, were awesome.
By the People 2018 art installation, Walter Reed campus, Washington, DC, Halcyon House
By the People 2018 art installation, Walter Reed campus, Washington, DC, Halcyon House

This year By the People 2019 is from June 15th to June 23rd.

You could make the same argument I make about Art all Night, that having lots of events over just one weekend will result in a lot of places not getting much patronage.

So it could be over the course of a week.

And it needs to be way better marketed and coordinated compared the other events I mentioned.

Alternatively, you could do it by quadrant. Spread it out over one month, with each week featuring a different quadrant of the city: NW, NE, SW, SE. Yes, the NW quadrant is bigger than the rest, but so what.

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May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 3: Learn and Get Involved (37-52)


This series 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.

The first post runs on the first day of May and the other posts on succeeding Fridays.

-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 1: Cultural Heritage Tourism (1-19)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 2: Explore your community (20-36)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 3: Learn and Get Involved (37-52)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 4: Preservation At Home (53-60)

I reorganized the series this year to put "things to do" up front, and the harder stuff "learning and volunteer" behind.

A preservation organization in Snohomish, Washington marching in a local parade.

Preservation Month aims to encourage increased engagement by supporters, and to reach broader audiences, in communicating the message that preservation is essential to community vibrance, identity, and quality of place.

The National Trust suggests using its "This Place Matters" promotion program as a way to draw attention to historic properties.

-- This Place Matters Toolkit: How to Create a Campaign for a Place You Love, NTHP

Some organizations do a much better job of organizing activities throughout the month than others. Agencies that stick out positively include the State of Indiana Historic Preservation Office and the City of Boston Landmarks Commission.

Bringing media attention to preservation. It's also a great opportunity to try to engage local media on preservation topics.

For example, the statewide preservation group Indiana Landmarks releases their list of most threatened resources just before the onset of Preservation Month, as a way to get publicity and draw attention (see "Indiana Landmarks names '10 Most Endangered' sites for 2014," Indianapolis Star, "A new pastime: Preservation Month brings plenty of events in May in Southern Indiana," Jeffersonville News and Tribune).

(On the other hand, you can argue that releasing a list of endangered properties at another time of year may bring additional publicity to the cause outside of the May period when more attention is likely to be focused.)

50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act in 2016 as an opportunity for assessment.  2016 was the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, which was passed in 1966.  The law was spurred by public protest against the impact on existing neighborhoods from urban renewal and highway construction projects, "undertakings" funded for the most part by the federal government.

-- Preservation 50
Posters, 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act

Learn; Get Involved

37. Learn about the history of your community. For example, for DC, read Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C., 1964 -1994 and Between Justice and Beauty, and more.

In DC, knowing about the original L'Enfant Plan and follow up planning by the McMillan Commission, allows you to understand the antecedents of the city, and make better land use decisions going forward, for your neighborhood and for the city.

L'Enfant Plan, Washington, DCStart with Washington in Maps by Iris Miller and Washington: Through Two Centuries by Joseph Passonneau. And see "Washington: Symbol and City," a permanent exhibit at the National Building Museum.

Many university presses publish books on local history and architecture that are well worth reading.

For example, the Wayne State University Press published a fabulous book on railroad stations, Michigan's Historic Railroad Stations.

The book, by Michael Hodges, doesn't have an extensive section of introductory text, but what's there is golden--a succinct discussion of public space and the importance of railroad stations in the civic realm, and a good survey of the key texts in the field.

Johns Hopkins University Press (catalog on railroadsregional interest, including architecture) and the University of Chicago Press (architecture) have extensive publishing programs on history and architecture, with many many excellent items.  So do the MIT Press and Princeton Architecture Press, as do most university presses, from the University of California to the University of Tennessee.

History Press and Arcadia Publishing Company have extensive publishing programs on community history.

38. Become a member of your citywide/countywide/regional preservation organizations such as the DC Preservation League, the Municipal Arts Society in New York City, Baltimore Preservation, Historic Districts Council in New York City, Cleveland Restoration Society, Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, Landmark Society of Western New York (which serves Rochester, among other places), etc.  I am a big fan of the Chicago Bungalow Association.

39.  Before you get too involved, you might want to take the time to read your city, county, or state historic preservation plan.  This will educate you about preservation issues in your area.  (Although generally such plans are pretty positive, and don't go into enough detail about the "threats" nor do they outline ways to address "opportunities" in a process design approach.)

In order to implement the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Park Service was tasked with the responsibility of working with states to create a process for designating resources for the "National Register of Historic Places."  All states have historic preservation offices to coordinate efforts at the state level.  And in order to be "certified" at the state and local level--this means that the agency is eligible to use federal historic preservation funds--the entity has to have a plan.

-- DC Historic Preservation Plan

However to fully protect historic resources, you need local laws and regulations.  Note that something that many people find confusing is that the federal law only concerns federal undertakings--federally-owned buildings (the Post Office is exempt) and federal programs spending money locally (like aging programs or road and transit projects).

Getting national recognition from the National Register of Historic Places for a local historic district isn't enough to protect resources from local, state, or private action.  Separate local laws are required.

Unfortunately, I'd argue that the 50th anniversary of the law was an opportunity for assessment and evaluation, and setting an agenda for improvement, and in most places that did not happen.  

40. Learn about why historic preservation is important, in and of itself, as well as a urban revitalization strategy. The reason I am a strong supporter of preservation is that I have come to believe that it is the only approach to economically sustainable neighborhood and commercial district revitalization that works for the long haul.

Hands down though, the best speech on the power and centrality of beauty and historic preservation in civic life is that by recently retired Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston, SC.

Probably the best two books to read are Cities: Back from the Edge and Changing Places, in terms of getting up to speed on the issues quickly without having to read dozens of other tomes.

Cities Back from the Edge by Roberta GratzIf you want to get into more detail, I suggest reading some of the work by Donovan Rypkema, such as his speeches, including "Culture, Historic Preservation and Economic Development in the 21st Century" and "Economic Power of Preservation," and his report on the economic value of preservation for New York, New York: Profiting through Preservation.

The book published a couple years ago by the World Bank, The Economics of Uniqueness: Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Heritage Assets for Sustainable Development, extends these arguments more broadly.


41. Join a neighborhood/local preservation group, such as in DC the Capitol Hill Restoration SocietyHistoric Takoma, or Historic Mount Pleasant).

42.  Nationally, you can join the National Trust for Historic Preservation while you're at it. If you join, you can visit NT owned sites and affiliate organization museums at a discount/free, get discounts at Historic Hotels, and discounts on products you purchase.

Historic Takoma House Tour sign in front of a participating building43.  Preservation Action is a 501(c)4 advocacy group that advocates for specific legislation and is also a membership group.  Their "Preservation Advocacy Week" is held in March, where members lobby Members of Congress for legislation favorable to preservation.

44.  At the state level, most states have statewide preservation organizations.  In the DC-VA-MD area, that means Preservation Maryland and Preservation Virginia/Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, as well as the DC Preservation League.  Many sponsor annual or bi-annual conferences, journals, and other provide other resources.

I am always impressed by the quality of the annual conference of Colorado Preservation.  (The Saving Places Conference is in February, so we missed it.)

So join your statewide group.

45. Volunteer/1. Get involved in a preservation issue in your neighborhood or the city-county at large, which could include attending meetings of your local historic district/preservation commission, which in DC is the Historic Preservation Review Board, or working on a particular project affecting your neighborhood or city.

Issues common to many communities are inadequate protections for "old" buildings that may be historic but not necessarily designated (e.g., "Boston-area towns seek ways to slow razing of historic homes," Boston Globe) and teardowns, where older smaller houses are bought solely for the opportunity to build a new and bigger house on the same property ("Demolition Derby: As high-dollar houses crowd onto tiny lots, teardown fever is sickening neighborhoods across Nashville ," Nashville Scene) which is likely well located.  This is an increasing problem in high value real estate markets, and less of an issue in weak real estate markets.

Boulevard, Monument Avenue, Richmond
Median, Monument Avenue, with a monument in the background.

Another example is in Richmond, Virginia, where the Save our Statues organization is focused on restoring and maintain the city's statues, for example, those along Monument Avenue.  See the article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

There are always issues with "old" commercial buildings being demolished in favor of new architecturally homogeneous buildings (e.g., preserving diners in Baltimore County, Maryland, or historic theaters in various places).

46. Volunteer/2, in a traditional commercial district revitalization initiative, at a history museum, or for a historic site.  A "division of the preservation movement" is the Main Street commercial district revitalization program, which links economic development with historic preservation focused on the revival of local commercial districts and downtowns in smaller communities.

There are affiliates in every state, in many provinces in Canada, and in other countries as well. In the DC region, Maryland and Virginia have state level programs--Baltimore's program at the city level is independent of the state program, and there are a number of Main Street programs in DC.
'Baltimore

The Main Street Approach is ground up, where residents and other stakeholders join in with merchants and property owners to work on improving the commercial district overall. Typically, programs have a manager and may have additional full-time or most likely, part-time staff. It's volunteer.

Note that big downtowns and large business improvement districts tend to be members of the International Downtown Association, and are more focused on clean and safe activities and tend to be run by full-time staff, although in some cities such as San Diego, many of the business improvement districts are run using the Main Street Approach.

In my experience, interestingly, volunteers in Main Street programs tend to be 10-15 years younger than those in traditional preservation organizations, and the most active Main Street volunteers tend to live closest to the commercial district.

This makes Main Street commercial district revitalization programming a tremendous opportunity to draw new and younger audiences to the preservation movement.

There are more than 1200 Main Street programs around the county, including active programs in every state.

47.  Volunteer/3, at a history museum, a historic park or at a historic site.  Museums and historic sites are always looking for volunteers, as our most park systems, including the National Park Service.  Many docents at sites and museums are volunteers.

-- Volunteer in Parks program, National Park Service

48. Work to preserve historic schools as schools.  The DC Public School system has an archives and museum that is also a meeting center, Sumner School, at 17th and M Streets NW.

Sprawl-supportive building accreditation standards for school buildings push the concept of larger campuses served by school buses.

-- Historic School Preservation help page, NTHP
-- Why Johnny Can't Walk to School: Historic Neighborhood Schools in the Age of Sprawl, NTHP
-- Helping Johnny Walk to School: Policy Recommendations for Removing Barriers to Community-Centered Schools, NTHP

A tougher issue is preserving school buildings that are no longer needed.  This is a big problem in large cities that once had much bigger populations and a large set of school buildings spread throughout the city to accommodate.

In stronger market cities the school buildings are in high demand for conversion to housing.  In weak market cities, typically there isn't much demand for the buildings and they moulder, although sometimes they can be converted to social housing with the use of various tax credit programs.  (See Why Vacant Schools Still Sit Empty, a publication of The Pew Charitable Trusts.)

49. Another way to learn a lot but very quickly is to attend a preservation conference such as the annual meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (this year it's in Denver starting October 10th) and the National Main Street conference, which was held in Seattle in March, some sessions materials are available).

Many other areas have great preservation conferences but not in May, such as the state conference in Colorado, usually in February, and the conference of the Landmark Society of Western New York.

50. Check out the history resources at your local library or a specialized collection such as in DC at the Washingtoniana Collection at the Martin Luther King Central Library or the Peabody collection at the Georgetown Branch, the Kiplinger Library at the Historical Society of Washington, the Jewish Historical Society, or the Moorland-Spingarn Collection at Howard University.  Many city libraries have history collections.

51. Read a historic district brochure (or historic building or district nomination form).  In DC, they are available online or in hard copy at the Historic Preservation Office.  Many communities produce and publish these kinds of publications.  Two of the best I've ever read is one on Jefferson County Indiana including Madison (One of the first Main Street communities) and Hanover, and the other on the Kansas City public market, called City Market.  Both lay out their respective histories chronologically but thematically.

Relatedly, to win designation, the group organizing the creation of a historic district has to create a "context statement," which outlines the architectural, social, and cultural history of the area.  While the writing quality varies, they are usually great resources and fun to read.  One example is the nomination form for the Hyattsville Historic District in Prince George's County, Maryland.

The difference between a brochure and the full context statement is the detail.  A brochure is succinct and the highlights version, drawn from the full document.

Also note that there is a variant of context statements, called thematic studies.  These documents set the stage at a larger scale, that of the landscape, period, or a particular type of building, structure, or site (warehouses, schools, telecommunications facilities).

For example the National Register Publication Historic Residential Suburbs is an excellent discussion of suburban development, recognizing that this type was a part of late stage development within center cities also, at the outskirts but still within a city's boundaries.

The City of San Jose commissioned a Mid-Century Context Statement to document the city's "contributions to California Modernism, [focusing] on resources built between 1935 and 1975 ... [delineating] architectural styles, historic themes and associated property types, and catalogues local practitioners."

52.  I am a big fan of reading the design guidelines publications produced for cities or neighborhood historic districts, which describe local historic districts, such as those from Montgomery County MarylandRichmond, VirginiaRoanoke, Virginia, and the Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual.

The Roanoke Virginia Residential Pattern Book is a stand out!

53.  Listen to a preservation focused podcast.  Podcasts--"radio shows" are a new addition to preservation-based media.  Preservation Maryland produces a great series, PreserveCast, which is worth checking out.

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