We Can Carry the Change in Preservation Forward—But Not Alone

By Katie Rispoli Keaotamai posted 03-14-2019 15:47


Preservationists have made substantial progress toward a more inclusive, less restricted movement. Our practice is increasingly multifaceted—we are staffing historic sites, working in construction trades, supporting real estate and economic development, and working as advocacy professionals. And this range of preservation professionals of all ages and levels of experience is active in the conversation about the future of preservation, engaging on subjects like climate change, development, business districts, local government, public policy, land use law, and education. How can we be active in so many arenas and not see substantial change? 

Having managed construction projects has given me insight into how preservationists are perceived within aligned professions. | Photo credit: Lindseying Photography


Yet I often hear that change within preservation involves a lot of talk, but little action. I don’t agree. Of course not everyone in the field is committed to building a more inclusive and less restricted preservation movement, but I believe that the change we talk about is real and that we’ve achieved a great deal considering where we started. And as we continue to push the boundaries of our practice, those who are resistant to change will have to adapt or fall by the wayside. Given that we have made so much progress already, what is creating this perception of a stagnation? 

Siloed Professions

Over the course of my career, I’ve worked in construction, managing large-scale projects like the relocation of the world’s first Taco Bell, as well as in nonprofits, where I’ve planned multiday programs like California’s first Youth Heritage Summit. The architects, engineers, planners, and developers I’ve worked with have said that my flexibility and willingness to compromise are “not what they expected” from a preservationist. Some of these professionals have even told me that they were taught in school to watch out for and avoid us. We may realize that we have changed dramatically, but the perception of our work largely hasn’t. Why are we still viewed as obstructionists, rather than as a resource, by those in related industries? 

Like historic preservation, the field of transportation engineering has experienced substantial change in recent years as the next generation of practitioners shift their focus to pedestrian-oriented infrastructure—like the Capital City Bikeway in Saint Paul, Minnesota. | Credit: Toole Design


To address this disconnect, we must be proactive in creating interdisciplinary relationships. Today’s professionals are expected to have many different skillsets to stay competitive, as employers increasingly seek versatile talent. In response, new programs now offer “dual” or combination master’s degrees in fields like architecture, geographic information systems (GIS) mapping, and urban planning alongside historic preservation.

But architecture, engineering, and construction–related professions have traditionally been very siloed. And while newer practitioners embrace interdisciplinary approaches, the traditional organizations remain distinct. Generally, architects belong to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), planners to the American Planning Association (APA), engineers to the American Society of Civil Engineers, and preservationists to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

As a result, trends and important developments in allied professions often go unnoticed. Like preservationists, transportation engineers are frequently perceived as challenging to work with. But a new generation has shifted that field’s focus from highways to advocating for pedestrians and public transportation infrastructure. In preservation, up-and-coming professionals prioritize inclusivity and value cultural heritage above high architecture and integrity. The changes in both professions have been substantial, but how can we make sure our peers are aware that they’ve happened? 

I believe it’s vital that preservationists engage with those in adjacent professions, which is one of the reasons I created Ticco, a new online community for early-career professionals who are working to improve cities and the built environment. 

Ticco is connecting forward-thinking professionals with two to 15 years of experience working to improve the built environment. | Photo credit: Lindseying Photography

Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration

Ticco connects people of all professional backgrounds who care about improving cities and the built environment. This community for early-career professionals invites those with between two and 15 years of experience to distinguish themselves as forward-thinking in their professions and benefit from the company’s exclusive online platform. Members can participate in Ticco Discussions, where the community explores prompts submitted by members. Discussions allow members to find each other and build relationships based on shared values and interests—not just degrees or certifications. Through this and Ticco’s other features, professionals in real estate development, urban planning, and other aligned practices will consistently have opportunities to see and hear from the next generation of leaders in preservation. 

Ticco is currently accepting membership applications, and the first 100 individuals admitted will gain access when the online platform opens on April 24. Anyone whose work centers around the built environment, who lives in the United States, and who has between two and 15 years of experience may apply. 

When Ticco's custom-built online platform opens on April 24, it will offer preservation professionals the opportunity to build alliances with their peers in a wide range of intersecting practices. | Photo credit: Ticco

While Ticco is building opportunities for cross-disciplinary engagement, it is not the only solution. To encourage collaboration, preservationists need to join conversations outside our industry whenever possible. We must attend conferences that cater to aligned professions, not just ones specifically focused on preservation. We must seek positions on local boards and commissions that focus on economic development, public spaces, and planning. Even easier, we must opt in to local APA, AIA, or Urban Land Institute chapter mailing lists and attend the events they host to show that we’re open to new and diverse approaches. 

Though the preservation community must work to create this change, we cannot do it alone. Professionals in related fields need to reach out to us as well. If we do our part, and they invite us to the table when a seat is open, we can make our collective work simpler, more effective, and more collaborative. 

Katie Rispoli Keaotamai, the founder and CEO of Ticco, has spent the last seven years working at the intersection of construction, historic preservation, urban planning, and placemaking. She previously served as executive director of We Are the Next, providing programs that introduced teens and young adults to cities and the built environment.


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03-15-2019 11:38

Katie this is so great! Thank you for creating and sharing.
As an architect working in preservation, I would also encourage preservationists to get in touch with their local AIA -- particularly the Historic Resources Committee. My AIA Houston HRC is welcoming of non-architects and we have a very active committee full of people from various backgrounds -- perhaps your local chapter/committee is similar!