Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Blog!!

Greetings Preservation fans! As you know, this blog is 'officially' retired as I graduated from CMC this December. I have however started a new job in Kansas City with Urban Ranger Corps. I've started a blog for the program and hope to keep current and informative about what we're doing.

Check it out and thanks for your patronage!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Signing off...

It's the last day of the year....adios 2010. For me, that means that the school year is over, my Historic Preservation degree is completed, and I'm headed to Kansas City to start the new job.

Because I already have a B.A. degree, many of the credits transferred over to my preservation studies. That means I was able to complete the Associates degree in only 3 semesters (including an intense internship in the summer). And since I am no longer a student of Colorado Mountain College- this blog will be placed in the archives. Makes me kind of sad really.

Though this blog was short lived, I think I was able to cover a lot of information about a large realm of preservation related activities and ideas. This was a good exercise for me- challenging me think about the important and relevant preservation topics I was exposed to, and sometimes searching for new ones.

I hope my readers learned a few things or at least found themselves thinking about things they normally would not have. Most of all, I hope that this blog helped readers to gain a new appreciation for preservation, and think about how crucially important it is to our world.

It's been fun writing, and now it's time to hang it up. I hope another preservation student will pick up where I leave off, but I'm not sure that's going to happen. Be sure to check in with Urban Ranger Corps often. I hope to have a new blog for my work with them.

If I don't see you there, thanks for reading! It's been fun getting responses and challenging my own viewpoints. Keep on Preserving!

Going to.....Kansas City......Kansas City here I come.....

I've sung that song so many times before, but I never knew I would sing it again and mean it! As I've written in previous posts, I grew up in Kansas City, and I love it there, but I never could imagine myself living there again. (not enough mountains, oceans, or other outdoor extremes).

Well, as fate would have it, I will be living there for the next couple of years at least. I was offered a job that I simply could not refuse. Mind you I was not looking in Kansas City, but as my family still lives there and personal connections abound- I became aware of an amazing opportunity.

This coming Monday, January 3rd, I will begin my new job as Assistant Director at Urban Ranger Corps. This isn't exactly the preservation job I was seeking, but given my background in non-profits, my love of construction and hands-on work, and my passion for 'saving the world', this position almost seems made for me.

Urban Ranger Corps provides learning opportunities for at-risk inner city youth in Kansas City. This primarily consists of working with low-income neighbors by cleaning up yards, painting houses, and doing small repair work on homes in the surrounding neighborhoods. As the website states: Through an eight and one-half hour work days (30 minutes is provided for a nonpaid lunch period), four days a week, 9-weeks summer phase, at-risk youth learn important pre-employment skills (summarized as, “Be on time, Dress appropriately, and Speak respectfully”) by being assigned to a Work Team of six rangers and projects to repair, paint and restore the yards of homes owned by low-income families, especially the homes of seniors or households headed by a single parent or (often) grand parent.

Additionally, the Corps has expanded to support these Rangers throughout the school year: When the school year begins in September , the year-round phase of ICP Management/Coaching phase begins. The work of this phase is based on the Individual Career Plan (ICP) developed for each ranger during the summer phase. The ICP Manager/Coach meets with rangers on a bi-weekly basis to ensure they are carrying out the action steps set forth in their ICP’s.

The Urban Ranger Corps was founded in July 2003 by the Rev. John Wandless while he was pastor of St. Louis Catholic Church, an inner Kansas City parish (2001 – 2006). The successes experienced by the program are outstanding. You can read testimonials of participants and read news articles written about Rangers on their website:

In addition to administrative non-profit responsibilities, I will also be conducting CPR/First Aid training for the Rangers, identifying and acting as project manager for a home to be rehabilitated and sold for program income, planning 'study abroad' trips and projects for the rangers and supervising (likely in New Mexico or surrounding area), helping plan logistics for summer work projects, among many other tasks. The Rangers would also like to become involved with bike trail development as well as work with the Forest Service or Park Service. How fantastic is all of that!!

Needless to say, I am very excited about this opportunity. These are amazing youth and I am honored to get the chance to work with them. I hope to create a blog or some sort of social media outlet for my work with the Rangers. Please take an opportunity to visit the website and check for updates regarding a social media project- it will be very exciting!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

City or Suburbs Part VI

So far we've seen several problems facing the suburbs. The low density, large land use design of the suburbs is bad for the environment, bad for our health, and bad for our pocketbooks. What many people fail to see, is the value in our historic buildings and historic neighborhoods.

America is a society that thrives on new, bigger, better. But we all know that this is not a sustainable way to live. When we stop to listen to the wisdom of our ancestors, we can see the value in their often simpler ways of life.

If you look closely at historic neighborhoods, you'll find that they were designed around the pedestrian. They are very walkable. As I've alluded to in the previous posts, this lack of walkability in the suburbs is a key element to the problems they face. When we embrace our lower density designed areas, suddenly we do not rely on the automobile, saving us money and time. We can walk to work or to the store, or to the doctors office, and get fresh air and exercise simultaneously. We're producing less carbon emissions and we have more interaction with our neighbors. You can see how walking is a HUGE benefit to high density areas. It address the environment, our health, our budget, and our community.

We also help the strength of the entire city when we live in our historic areas. By moving back to the cities roots, the city requires less sprawl, it protects green lands from being developed, it keeps the embodied energy of the historic building, requires less infrastructure to extend, and strengthens the cities economy by revitalizing the 'downtown' and 'main street' areas.

An interesting phenomena I found while writing this paper was that there is in fact a growing trend of moving back to the city. Since America is good at following cues from pop culture, we can see this in the last decades most popular TV shows. Think, E.R., Friends, Seinfeld and Frasier. I guess I was a little late to make the connection, but life in the city is the hot new thing. This is very good for preservation. However, much to my dismay, there are now a completely new set of issues to worry about. This trend is reversing so much, that in some parts of the country we now see the suburbs becoming the slums. Not exactly what I wanted to see.

There is hope however. Many of you have likely heard of the New Urbanism movement. This is a way of designing our neighborhoods with all of these concerns in mind. The principles of New Urbanism are as follows:

1. Walkability
2. Connectivity
3. Mixed-use and Diversity
4. Mixed Housing
5. Quality Architecture and Urban Design
6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure
7. Increased Density
8. Green Transportation
9. Sustainability
10. Quality of Life

To read more about New Urbanism, visit this website:
It's pretty exciting for me to see there are people trying to solve these problems and address these issues head on. Obviously we can't ALL live in the city, but there are ways to restructure some of our suburban areas to make them more livable. This is one factor the New Urbanism movement attempts to address.

So while I certainly don't have all of the answers, I am even more convinced in the importance of having strong support for preservation in our country. In fact, it's critical for the improvement of our economy, our planet's health, and our communities. In addition, we must embrace New Urbanism to address some of the issues that preservation can't address. I know this doesn't solve everything, but it's a very good place to start.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

City or Suburbs Part V

Today I'm going to talk about community life, and why city dwellers may have more connection to their neighbors than suburbanites do.

The idea of this seemed a little radical to me. I mean, I grew up in the suburbs, and my parents still live there, and they're very involved in their community. What I found was that this might not be the norm however. There are many people that believe the suburbs are highly anti-social. Apparently this is not a new idea, though it was a new idea to me.

When you think about it, there is some logic to this idea. A person can literally wake up in the morning, get into their car in the garage, drive all the way to their place of employment, park in an underground parking lot, take the elevator to their floor, and enter their cubicle without ever seeing another person. The fact that practically all people living in the suburbs have to drive to school, work, shopping, etc., they are constantly surrounded by several thousand pounds of steel and glass and have little opportunity for spontaneous meetings and getting to know their neighbors.

Contrast this with living in the city which are designed to be walkable and where people are able to develop more personal relationships with their neighbors and family run corner stores.

Community life is very important, whether we think about it or not. According to Mark Kingswell, professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto,
“Humans have always found meaning by living together with each other. And in fact, if you go back millennia, many political theorists from Aristotle on, think that community is what defines us as who we are, and without community we’re less than ourselves. We’re either beasts or gods he said. Well since most of us are not gods, we probably end up being beasts if we don’t have people around.
Cities grow up over the course of centuries, a grand migration of people towards the kinds of diversity, excitement and opportunity that close proximity of other humans offers them. The fascinating thing about the development of the suburbs as an ex-urban or anti-urban form of building is that it is the reverse movement under the conditions of the urban. That is, people have come together seeking each other, and they’re fleeing from each other into isolation.”

The suburbs have lost the traditional community based structures of our historic areas. They have no central meeting places, no community arts centers, no public forum places etc. The performing arts centers, theaters, libraries, city halls, and other community minded places are all downtown. The suburbs induce privacy, where the city promotes gett"ing to know your neighbors.

There's a quote in the movie "Radiant City" which pretty much sums it up:

“What is it doing to the very idea of citizenship when we don’t share public spaces with each other and we spend no time whatsoever in a community with our fellow citizens. This isn’t just about the car. The car is a handy bashing point but it’s not about the car, It’s about how we have chosen to live. My particular worry I guess would be the deteriorating sense of citizenship when people live so isolated from themselves….Community becomes just a word in the overheated rhetoric of advertising for most of these developments. Community is shorthand for cluster of houses with people inside them not talking to each other. It’s not at all community in any meaningful or deep sense. So you can talk about the community in the sense of that named suburb or that tract but in many cases if not most, there’s no community there."

That's a pretty frightening outlook. It's also a very difficult thing to quantify. So you may or may not agree with it. I am at least glad that people are having the conversation, and that we are becoming aware of the potential problem.

Stay tuned for the next post where I explain how preservation can help to solve some of the suburban problems.

Monday, December 13, 2010

City or Suburbs? Part IV

Yikes, how much more of this can I have? Surprisingly more than you'd think! This time I'm going to talk about money- that is, how expensive the suburbs really are.

I mentioned earlier that your money will go a lot farther in the suburbs. Your money will buy a lot more house than in the city. However, there is SO much more to consider. For one, you need to think about how much more money is spent on gas when living in low density areas. Like I mentioned before, you have to drive virtually everywhere- and with today's gas prices, this puts a dent in your pocketbook very quickly.

Next let's talk about something most of us have never given a single thought to. Infrastructure. Have you ever thought about who paid to have those sewer lines extended all the way to 210th street? What about your phone line? Electricity? Extending infrastructure outside of the city is very expensive. Who do you think pays for this? You do of course, right through your taxes. And what about Fire Houses, and Police Stations, Emergency Medical Services? Low density suburbs require significantly more of these than in the compact city. Again- welcome to your taxes. One quote in my paper reads as follows "The lifetime cost of low-density suburban development is 40 to 400 percent greater than more compact development." Uh, yikes.

Then there's the jobs available with preservation projects. This really surprised me too, the economic gains of a rehabilitation project outweigh new single-family construction, new multi-family construction, new commercial and industrial construction and new highway construction. Per project, the financial gains for job creation, income generated, wealth and revenue from taxes are all greater for rehabilitation than the four other categories. That means there is more opportunity and income generated in Historic Preservation!!

When your city is financially healthy, you have a much better chance of being financially healthy as well. That's why preservation pays on so many levels. In addition to bringing in more jobs, preservation also brings in more tourists. When you visit a new city, does anyone take you to see the suburbs? No, you go the historic areas most likely. They're interesting, are nice to look at, and have a special ambiance lacking in generic places.

Alive and well historic areas also attracts small business. According to preservationist Carolyn Douthat, "The type of space available in historic buildings is especially suited to small businesses and retail shops. These buildings typically provide a diverse supply of office and retail space at prices which attract small and start-up businesses. In addition, high-end small businesses are attracted to identifiable historic districts because of the character of the neighborhood and the scale of spaces." This is very important because small businesses have generated over 65% of new jobs in the last two decades. That means more job opportunities for you!

I could go on, but I know this post is a little heady. Hopefully you get the point, preservation is good for business, good for jobs, and good for your pocketbook!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

City or Suburbs? Part III

If you read the previous post, you know that the suburbs are in grave danger due to the impending oil crisis. Maybe you're one of those people that are just not worried about that. You don't really think about this because you're sure that someone will come up with an answer. Ok fine, if you're going to ignore that, let's look at the other issues faced by the 'burbs.

First of all let's talk about your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average suburban adult is 6.3 pounds heavier than the average urban adult. In 1969, 50% of kids walked or biked to school. In 2001, 90% were driven to school (due to low density suburban design). Many recent studies are beginning to link features of suburban sprawl such as shopping centers and a lack of sidewalks and bike trails to deadly health problems. Do you see something ironic about the fact that so many people drive to the gym?

In addition to your physical health, there's plenty of people that believe the suburbs are bad for your mental and spiritual health. Just look at pop culture, the parodies of suburban life are everywhere. Very coincidentally, and ironic, is the fact that my new favorite band 'The Arcade Fire' just released an album titled...what else...'The Suburbs'. I told it was ironic! It's an amazing album and has the additional benefit of subtly exposing suburban idiosyncrasies.

Plenty of other bands have taken on this task, as have TV shows, movies and comedians. Ever notice how the biggest TV shows in the 70's and 80's were all about the fantastic life in the suburbs. Yet in the last two decades the biggest shows were all in the city! Think about it, what was popular then: The Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver, Happy Days, Father Knows Best, etc. And lately: E.R., Friends, Seinfeld, Sex in the City, Fraser. Hmmmm...think that means anything?

While doing my research for this paper I made an amazing discovery. There are books written about the empty suburban life. One that stood out in particular was Death by Suburb, How to Keep the Suburbs from Killing your Soul This is a religious book written by David L. Goetz who lives in the suburbs with his family. On the back cover we see the following:

“In his exploration and examination of faith and the suburban life, Goetz delves into what every suburbanite knows but is terrified to say out loud: the life that people appear to posses and the life they actually lead are two very different things. Goetz is a suburban “insider,” so his spiritual advice is neither theoretical nor abstract. He has experienced the emptiness himself. This book is filled with stories of ordinary people who have found a way to live what he calls the “thicker life” while residing in today’s supposed suburban utopia.”

Um, what?!!? Ok if that isn't telling then I don't know what is. Certainly I know that not all suburbanites feel this way, nor live this way. But I think many of us might be surprised how many do. And if that's not enough, stayed tuned for Part IV- more alarming discoveries...