Best Practices Chicago Illinois

Chicago Mayoral Preservation Survey

by Michael R. Allen

Preservation organizations can be afraid of engaging electoral politics, but avoidance is not the best action. Leadership is needed on preservation policy, and it need not involve endorsement or direct participation in an election cycle.

Landmarks Illinois shows us the way with its just-released Chicago Mayoral Preservation Survey. The state-wide advocacy group posed direct questions on historic preservation, the Chicago landmark ordinance, recent past preservation, church landmark designation and sustainability to all candidates for mayor. Landmarks Illinois collected the results and published them, without comment, for all voters to see.

Belleville, Illinois Best Practices Chicago Illinois

Two Wayfinding Ideas from Illinois

by Michael R. Allen

On a recent trip to Chicago, I came across the wonderful “Dearborn Avenue Cultural Walk.”  The “walk” is a self-guided architectural and cultural tour with information placed on illustrated signs along Dearborn.

Each sign contains information and historic photographs about the architecture and history of buildings on that block. Dearborn is one of Chicago’s most storied streets, so there is plenty of information. The photographs make it clear which building is which and what buildings looked like at other times (or what lost buildings looked like).

The elaborate sign boards could not have been cheap, but they are an excellent amenity. They are as easy to use for those seeking to take the whole “tour” as for someone just walking to work. The signs bring out more color from a very colorful street. St. Louis could stand to implement something similar. Downtown’s Olive Street would be a good test, because it is largely intact and still very densely built up. Washington Avenue would also be a good choice. Of course, both (and more) would be a good first choice, but cost certainly is a factor. Anyone interested?

Closer to home, Belleville, Illinois has placed steel signs at the boundaries of the downtown area historic districts that read simply “National Register Historic District.”  The brown signs are placed near other road signs and thus underscore their recognition of what is an official status.

The Belleville signs do not include the historic district name or any other information, but they are a relatively economical, easy way of marking the special status of the city’s historic districts. These signs won’t guide tourists, but they do impress upon passers-by that there is something special about the neighborhood. Perhaps the signs instill some neighborhood pride in the status, too. Again, St. Louis might do well to grab this idea in some way. Anything that draws attention to our rich architectural heritage is good for cultural tourism and economic development — and we could use more of both.

Adaptive Reuse Best Practices Industrial Buildings Nashville

Adaptive Reuse of Nashville Iron Works

by Michael R. Allen

While in Nashville recently, I spotted the Riverfront Condominiums along the Cumberland River just south of the Jefferson Street Bridge in the old stockyards area. From a distance, I thought that I had spotted a former fabrication shed, and I was right. Perhaps the recent demolition of much of the General Steel Casting foundry, with its magnificent sheds, in Granite City was on my mind. While lacking a river view, that complex was ripe for creative reuse.

The Riverfront Condominiums utilize what was the main shed of the Kerrigan Iron Works (which was actually a steel fabricator, not a foundry). While the shed is not restored, it and a smokestack on the site were both incorporated into the redevelopment. In 1985, a developer built new apartment buildings along the river and around the smokestack base, deciding to retain the industrial structures in the new project.

Since the foundry sat back from the river, the main new building — converted into condominiums in the 1990s — is adjacent to the shed, not inside of it. The shed is used as covered parking.

Here is one flaw — this interesting covered space is the primary entrance into the condominiums, and it is used only for parking cars. There is not much decoration or lighting here.

On the First Avenue North side, where one enters the project, the side wall was stripped of cladding with some steel window sash left in place. However, the impact is not as stunning a sit could be. Again, having the undershed area devoted only to parking mitigates the “wow” factor.

The buildings around the smokestack, however, form a pleasant courtyard — again, mostly devoted to parking. While the Riverfront Condominiums have a few design issues relating to placement of parking and approach, the actual living spaces on the river face are unique in Nashville. The developer who sought to retain the foundry shed and the smokestack did so with little incentive. There is no income tax in Tennessee and hence no state development tax credits. According to a local architectural consultant, development culture in Nashville long ago embraced creative contemporary design. The Riverfront Condominiums, however imperfect, demonstrate that mindset. St. Louis developers dealing with industrial property should take heed.

Best Practices Historic Preservation Media

Preservation and Online Media

by Michael R. Allen

Preservation Ohio, the statewide advocacy organization serving the Buckeye State, is the most-followed state preservation group on Twitter. I have been following Preservation Ohio’s media efforts for the past month, and am amazed at the innovation in and consistency of its efforts. In fact, on Friday, October 23, Preservation Ohio hosted a live blog on “Preservation and Social Media.” Hopefully other Midwestern preservation groups tuned in for some much-needed training.

According to the organization’s website, the premise was simple and familiar to preservationists across the country: “Ohio’s preservation community suffers from a lack of cohesion and from multiple groups working in ways that waste resources and produce a disjointed message.”

Here’s what Preservation Ohio has done to combat that problem in the past year:

* Launched The Ohio Preservation Network, America’s first social network designed exclusively for statewide preservation and revitalization. Through the site, Ohioans can now easily share preservation news, stories, events, opportunities and enthusiasm, and gain access to key resources.
* Forged new ground in the use of online social networking to build a strong, cohesive community for preservation, and to provide public relations opportunities for our members and affiliate communities.
* Hosted the most-followed organizational Twitter page of any statewide preservation organization in the country. Each month, our stories and links are now re-posted, and our stories are clicked, over 1,000 times. We continue to build a strong presence on Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, YouTube and other forms of social media.
* We continue to publish America’s first and oldest self-authored statewide preservation blog, MyHometownOhio, which celebrated its third anniversary this summer.
* Worked with statewide and regional preservation organizations in other parts of the country to share best practices and tips on social media.
* Hosted National Preservation Conference Twitter Central, the only location online for access to all Twitter entries from the 2009 Nashville Conference, including photos and videos.

While most of effective preservation advocacy happens offline, and some constituents are missed by social media, Preservation Ohio’s work demonstrates a welcome openness. Meeting people where they are is key to successful preservation outreach, and online media are key to meeting a wide spectrum of the public, especially younger people often under-engaged by preservation groups. Alongside traditional outreach, Preservation Ohio’s online media strategy has made it into the most visible Midwestern preservation organization. Will others follow?