Presentations that address diversity/inclusion/relevancy in historic preservation policy

Before I left my position as an associate professor at the University of Maryland in May 2022, I created a curated list of YouTube conference presentations since 2020 that address diversity, inclusion, equity, justice, and relevancy in historic preservation practice in relation to federal, state, and local government policy. I originally intended these curated presentations to be of benefit for the faculty in my historic preservation program, but realized that they have much broader value outside of this context.

Note that, with a few exceptions, these are people with minoritized identities who are speaking from their own lived experience. I believe that it is critical that all of us who are working in historic preservation/built heritage conservation, where our duties overlap with the public, need to pay attention to what these individuals are saying. But, even more important, we should be acting on their advice.

The major themes from these presentations are:

  • The need to reform federal, state, and local historic preservation policy to address systemic racism.
  • The majority of practice in historic preservation, which is driven by governmental policies, ignores the main reason why people value older places: emotional connection (individually, and through their community).
  • Preservation policy needs to consider/legitimize/incorporate intangible heritage and local knowledge.
  • Preservation practitioners, who are mostly white/non-Latinx, need to work on their soft skills.

I’ve provided YouTube links that go directly to the specific time index in the recorded conference session where the indicated person is speaking about a specific topic. My intent is to make this process of listening to the voices of people with minoritized identities, who are often marginalized in historic preservation practice, as easy as possible.

Note that this list is, more or less, up to date as of the fall of 2021. I may make an update to this information if I receive a positive response to this post.

Historic Preservation: Of the People, By the People, For the People? (DC History Center)

Presentation by Nakita Reed, AIA on a multiple property documentation project for the National Register in Washington, DC for Civil Rights sites shows limitations on conventional reconnaissance surveys that rely too much on aesthetics and historical integrity. Watch now on YouTube.

Ted Gong’s, Executive Director of the 1882 Project Foundation, idea for compatible infill design in Washington DC’s Chinatown. He say it is not based on just having a “Chinese look” but “how does the proposed building design [help to] tell the stories that took place on the site?” Watch now on YouTube.

Nakita Reed, AIA, points out that culturally significant historical sites associated with people who have minoritized racial and ethnic identities had their historical integrity compromised by federal redlining disinvestment policy; The National Park Service’s lack of interest in revisiting historical integrity standards in the National Register of Historic Places just perpetuates this social injustice. Watch now on YouTube.

Ted Gong on how the future of historic preservation should understand the relationship between stories and people’s emotional attachment to cultural places while deprecating traditional standards of historical integrity (material authenticity). Watch now on YouTube.

Preserve the Past, Build for the Future (Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Webinar 3)

James Turner, President of Turner Restoration: “Historic preservation is a value to us all in the way that it opens us up to the stories of our community to sometimes the heartache and the pain of our past history, but also the joys of how we have risen.” Watch now on YouTube.

Quote from Lawana Holland-Moore, Program Officer, African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, about how it’s difficult to recognize African American places because they’re not “mansions”. Also talks about problems with gentrification. Watch now on YouTube.

Lawana Holland-Moore on Gentrification. Watch now on YouTube.

Lawana Holland-Moore: “We want more preservationists of color; we want more African American preservationists. There’s a stat that only one percent of us [preservationists] are African American. We want more of us in this field to be able to tell our stories and to be able to do this work.” Watch now on YouTube.

Recentering Margins Conference (University of Maryland, College Park conference organized by Michelle Magalong)

Andrea Roberts, Associate Professor, University of Virginia: “The foundational stories [of a place] foster an attachment which encourages participation and catalyzes real planning and preservation outcomes.” Watch now on YouTube.

Andrea Roberts: How historic preservation policy needs to change, assisted by technology. Watch now on YouTube.

Contemporary Native Issues: Tribal Historic Preservation in Pueblo Communities (Museum of Indian Arts and Culture)

Joseph “Woody” Aguilar, Ph.D., /Bruce Bernstein, Pojoaque Pueblo THPO, Ph.D., says that from the perspective of Indigenous Pueblo communities, Section 106 review has “been in one direction” and is too much of a “check the box” process where a tribal group is invited to participate after the “CRM work is already decided.” Watch now on YouTube.

Audience question, answered by Joseph “Woody” Aguilar: Representatives from Indigenous Pueblo communities want the Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, to help change federal historic preservation regulations to focus on intangible heritage in addition to these regulations’ current “limited focus on old buildings” and to fix Section 106 consultation. Natural and cultural resources are not separate entities. Watch now on YouTube.

Whose Heritage Are We Protecting? (Ontario Heritage Trust)

The presenter in these videos is Beth Hanna, Chief Executive Officer, Ontario Heritage Trust.

The heritage register of Ontario, Canada is mostly the “monumental, the grand, the unique” and over-emphasizes places associated with Christianity & “Western, European, architecture.” (The diversity deficit in historic building registers is not unique to US.) Watch now on YouTube.

“How do we change our frameworks and our methodologies [in built heritage conservation] to be equal and respectful of the collective? What [whose] values are we protecting?” Watch now on YouTube.

Referencing Randy Mason (Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania), built heritage conservation is “not just a technical practice [it’s a] sociocultural activity. [We] need to be more broadly inclusive of the needs of stakeholders and communities.” Watch now on YouTube.

References Laurajane Smith’s book, Uses of Heritage, in observing that “Heritage is a way of knowing and seeing and is a cultural construct [that overlays objective] history.” Watch now on YouTube.

Advocates for using Ned Kaufman’s “storyscape surveys” and oral history as part of built heritage conservation practice to better recognize places with cultural significance. Watch now on YouTube.

Heritage & Values (Anant National University)

Ana Pereira Roders, Professor, TU Delft, observes that “Historic values [associated with historical facts about the built environment] are very intolerant and negative towards communities and society.” She also asks if existing systems for heritage building registers, based on historical values, can be compatible with sociocultural values. Watch now on YouTube.

If, as Rabindra Vasavada, former Professor and Head at CEPT University, observes, heritage values are “a kind of social construction…developed by society itself [that are] always changing,” how can you create lists of heritage places that are never revisited/updated?” Watch now on YouTube.

Really interesting exchange with Rabindra Vasavada and participant about how preservation/heritage educators can change curricula/pedagogy to include intangible heritage. His advice is: “we have the freedom, so we should just do it.” Watch now on YouTube.

2021 Fitch Colloquium: The Art of Preservation

Introduction in this video (access here, via YouTube) by Jorge Otero-Pailos, Professor, Columbia University is an illuminating take on common knowledge in the profession: he talks about how preservation is about “speaking for the buildings” and defending their preservation through “juridical processes.”

Jorge Otero-Pailos says, “We now have landmarks commissions everywhere acting as juries and judges. To become ‘heritage’ a building must be put on trial. We teach our [preservation] students to speak as advocates [for buildings]—that is, as trial lawyers making a legal case of defense of each building.” Watch now on YouTube.

Jorge Otero-Pailos makes an observation about the way historic preservation practice tends to ignore emotion, even though it’s a fundamental part of human experience: “As preservationists, we have been [weak] at engaging the side of the brain associated with emotion, memory, aesthetic, and perception. The minute someone says preservationists are being emotional, we become defensive. We don’t know how to elaborate a strong preservation argument or position through emotion and yet emotional attachment to place is at the core of why preservation came to be in the first place.” Watch now on YouTube.

Jorge Otero-Pailos relates preservation, emotion, and lawyers: “Yet, emotional attachment to place is at the core of why preservation came to be; we preserve because we love places.” He is essentially saying that the long assumed requirement that professional preservation practice eviscerate emotion helps no one except lawyers. Watch now on YouTube.

Another observation by Jorge Otero-Pailos on emotion: “The preservation profession was and still is unprepared to understand preservation as an emotional process.” Watch now on YouTube.

Really powerful statement by Jorge Otero-Pailos that because historic preservation professionals were not equipped to understand African American emotions related to white supremacist heritage, “protesters turned against preservationists.” Watch now on YouTube.

Artist Karyn Olivier asks Brent Leggs, Executive Director, African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, National Trust for Historic Preservation, asks “What are preservationists doing this past year about thinking about other ways [to preserve] that aren’t dependent on physical space?… What have we learned from this moment [during the pandemic].” Watch now on YouTube.

Artist Monèt Noelle Marshall suggests we need “to stop being so precious about buildings and [instead focus on] the buildings being in relationship to place and people.” Watch now on YouTube.

Justin Garrett Moore, Program Officer, Mellon Foundation, observes “It’s no secret that historic preservation as a field is associated with white-center disciplines like architecture and ‘history’ and with white-centered and Eurocentric historical context and value systems. … There’s growing acknowledgement that preservation needs to change.” Watch now on YouTube.

Q & A with former NCPE intern Porsha Dossie (National Council for Preservation Education)

Porsha Dossie, former NPCE intern and former Staff Historian with the National Park Service, in response to a (lengthy) question, discusses how preservation policy and its implementing agencies (e.g., National Park Service, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation) and tools (e.g., National Register of Historic Places, Secretary of the Interior’s Standards) are not necessarily the best tools for people with minoritized racial and ethnic identities to use for work in historic preservation. Watch now on YouTube.

Improving Equity and Access: Creative and Community Needs-Focused Historic Preservation (Goucher College)

The presenter in these videos is Lauren Hoogkamer, Principal Planner and former Assistant Historic Preservation Officer.

There is a need to “respect local knowledge” in historic preservation practice. Watch now on YouTube.

Because of preservationist’s hubris, the field “oftentimes gets the reputation that historic preservation is for upper class people, older people—richer, whiter people.” Better to instead connect preservation to people’s basic needs. Watch now on YouTube.

Advice to people who work in historic preservation to dig deeper into historical research (including oral history) to find stories that relate to marginalized groups. It’s too easy to find stories about wealthy White men. Watch now on YouTube.

Interesting story about how the Narrowmoor Conservation District, which was nominated for its associations with fostering “the ideal white community” and mid-century design, was rejected by the City Council because of its difficult history. Watch now on YouTube.

Historic preservation practitioners need better soft skills to be able to work with diverse publics, including cultural competence, establish trust, have share decision-making, and minimizing risk. Watch now on YouTube.

Dismantle Preservation Conference (first one)

Important point by Jose Richard Aviles, Social Worker and Urban Planner about resiliency and the historic environment: “Resiliency doesn’t just live in the built environment, but it lives in the lived environment.” The suggestion is that perhaps this focus should be more fundamental to historic preservation policy and practice. Watch now on YouTube.

Diversity in Historic Preservation (Historic Tacoma and Tacoma Historical Society)

Presentation by Claudia Kiyama, Preservation Coordinator at Ebey’s Landing NHR, on diversity in historic preservation. She says “push for change in practice, guidelines, and legislation. For laws to change, the practice needs to change.” Watch now on YouTube.

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