Landscape & “Look at what you see, and then see beyond that”

So I’m actually writing this blog from the middle of the social media session (have you been following us on #presconf this week?) but I’ll save that conversation for the wrap up post on Sunday/Monday.

Yesterday was the day for “Next American Landscape” and we started again with a large general session to frame out the day. Panelists included John Bullard (Mayor of New Bedford former Mayor of New Bedford and director of  Sea Education Association) who has a different view on the role of preservation and environmentalism (especially in the case of Cape Wind), Preservation magazine editor James Schwartz and Director of our Southern Field Office Rob Nieweg. Bullard asked two questions: What’s going on here & What are we going to do about it?

The Cape Wind issue is large, complex and hard to explain in brief—so I ‘ll just send you here for more information but Bullard’s essential point is this: with the parts per million of carbon emissions higher then it has ever been, we cannot afford to not put up renewable energy resources as quickly as possible, because if we do not, everything else won’t matter. We can fight for old buildings and historic sites, but what good will that do us if we’re all suffering the effects of global warming.

He also says that while everyone was focusing on the visible intrusion of the windmills, they are ignoring the other terrible things going on in Nantucket (heavy boat traffic, sewage dumping etc.)

In the same vein Nieweg talked about the fight against high powered transmission lines through the Journey through Hallowed Ground. Some of which rely on coal plants and become “industrial intrusions on the landscape”

Both of them are asking us to think about the relationship between power, the landscape, and the preservation of our historic past. At one point Niewig asked “Do we want to sacrifice landscape for cheap power?”

These are the tough questions right? On the Next American City day a lot of the conversation was about finding balance, and looking at ways to bring sustainable design into adaptive re-use buildings, here we are talking about the same thing—but from the opposite angle, where environmentalism clashes with the tenants of historic preservation (saving viewsheds and shaped land).

It was a thought provoking session that once again stayed on my mind throughout the rest of the day—and what I found through my three sessions (Nominating Large Cultural Landscapes to the National Register, Land Conversation and Ranching, and a fantastic session on culinary agritourism in Washington State) is the need to ask those tough questions and find creative solutions because dealing with landscapes is a lot harder than dealing with a physical structure.

In the first session of the morning (the breakout on Nominating Large Cultural Landscapes) we saw that very complexity in identifying and discerning the different pieces of a a historic landscape (structures, layers of history, changes to the land). Unlike a building or a neighborhood with finite boundaries, a landscape has no start or no end, and often has multiple owners (some public, others private). The second session gave two case studies in Colorado. At one point one of the panelists mentioned that the driving force to doing the ranching survey projects was the fact that developmental threat (I think the Army was going to use the land for exercises) stated that the space was perfect because “there was nothing there.”

My third session, was about the world of agritourism. I first learned about the role of food in telling stories about a place and the past during my undergrad at William & Mary—and it is also the idea that pulled me down the rabbit whole hole into looking at history and culture writ large. That is telling the story of a space through music, film, art and food. So this session looked at the land and the landscape of farming and turned it into a central part of Washington State Tourism.

So how does this link to the general session this morning? I think that it has to do with looking at the big picture taking a deep breath, and trying to figure out a new way of doing business. In Thursday’s general session they talked about changing the rules—and for the real world maybe that’s what is on the horizon.


Later on yesterday night I attended the National Preservation Awards at gorgeous Paramount Theatre. You can see the winners on but the videos are the real star and will be rolled out on the web in the next few weeks. From Main Street Iowa, a school in Las Vegas, and the 2010 Crowninshield winner Tony Goldman it was a night of pride. I think some of you will be interested in seeing all the work he has done in Philadelphia, New York and Miami. During his acceptance speech he said his one advice for preservation is to take a look at what you see before you, and then to look beyond that to a broader, complete vision.  Words to live by.

Check out pictures here.

We’re packing up now, and I’ll be on my way to DC in a few hours. In the wrap up post next week I’ll talk about the last session I attended, the Forum Lunch and put a few final thoughts down for closure.

One thought on “Landscape & “Look at what you see, and then see beyond that”

  1. Thanks for your wonderful blog posts! You are great at describing each session and highlighting the highpoint of each.

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