Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Network: Learning in Miami 

12-09-2015 17:35

We had expected the orientation meeting for scholarship attendees at the 46th National Preservation Conference last October to be a one-and-a-half hour session of brief introductions--a time set aside just prior to the start of the conference for the 120 community leaders and students on scholarship to briefly meet each other and get a quick overview of the conference. Then Carl Westmoreland stood up to talk with the attendees. Carl, a trustee emeritus of the National Trust, shared his twenty-year battle to save and rehabilitate grand turn-of-the-century buildings and houses in the Mt. Auburn neighborhood of Cincinnati into decent homes for the largely African-American residents, and he showed photos of some of the 350 units of housing in historic structures completed to date. He recalled with emotion his first National Preservation Conference (in San Diego in 1971); he was the only AfricanAmerican present then and he revelled in the sea of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian and caucasian attendees who filled the room in Miami.

Then the attendees began to introduce themselves, and rarely were the introductions just a name and a place. More frequently, they assumed the form of testimonies of work being done, commitment, obstacles, and successes. For example, Carol Clounch, the neighborhood housing services director for St. Louis, Missouri, spoke of splendid historic neighborhoods across town from deteriorating poor minority neighborhoods. Wayne Nield described efforts to save the working fishing fleet and way of life in Cortez, Florida, in the face of encroaching development. Melissa Blacksmith, of fighting to save Indian language and traditions as a schoolteacher in Ogala, South Dakota. Jeri Oakley, of working to save the agricultural lands, rural structures, and tenant farmers in East Palo Alto, California. George Kirby, the Main Street program manager in Columbus, Mississippi, of leading an integrated coalition to strengthen the downtown. Angela Bates spoke of efforts to save Nicodemus, Kansas, a town founded by freed slaves. Sam Baca from the New Mexico Community Foundation shared information on the adobe churches project. And dozens of students spoke of their studies in urban planning, preservation, architecture, business, and other areas. Some three hours later the last attendee had spoken.

It was clear that these culturally diverse community leaders were engaged in preservation as we know it, even though they often called it housing, or teaching, or economic development, or whatever. They were in the trenches, fighting to rehabilitate older houses, caring about the specialness of their neighborhoods, battling social problems, and combatting indifference and hostility to their neighborhoods. They weren`t new to preservation, although they were new to the conference and to the organized preservation movement.

They weren`t here on a handout. Each had contributed some of his or her own money, or raised funds, to supplement the assistance available from our scholarship fund.

I and other white, middle-class attendees were the true beneficiaries of the scholarship program. The scholarship attendees on the whole brought a freshness of commitment and a diversity of experience that reinvigorated and enriched us. As indicated by evaluations and letters that followed the conference, some key networks are being created. Scholarship attendees report being in touch with each other, sharing approaches and advice. A number of attendees are working with National Trust staff and advisors, statewide preservation organizations, state historic preservation offices, and others for the first time.

How did this shift in the conference, and ultimately in the preservation movement, begin? Without doubt it began at the San Francisco conference in the fall of 1991 when some 2,000 attendees examined the future of historic preservation in the United States and placed cultural diversity near the top of the list of issues to be addressed. Soon thereater we obtained crucial seed money from the Favrot Fund of Houston, followed by an unsolicited phone call from a Forum member working for the Getty Grant Program in California asking how the program could help; and we received important support from the James S. and John L. Knight Foundation, the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, and National Trust members. In total, $55,000 was provided for the scholarship fund. Additionally, the National Park Service, the Flordia State Historic Preservation Office, other key donors, and a strong group of Florida volunteer leaders helped make the conference succeed.

Where do we go from here? First, we secure the funds needed to carry out an equally effective scholarship program at the upcoming National Preservation Conference in St. Louis (September 29 to October 3). And we share the models of state scholarship funds of the Preservation League of New York State and the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana to encourage other statewides and local organizations to partner in this endeavor. We are already hard at work on this.

Second, as an essential part of our mission we continue to work to foster the networks and relationships begun in Miami and elsewhere. And finally, each of us carries with us what we learned in Miami to help us as we plan the work of our organizations, shape programs, identify potential board members, hire staff members, and make myriad decisions.

We would do well to review the Draft Goals for Cultural Diversity in Historic Preservation, which were adopted at the conference in Miami. These draft goals augment Principle VIII of the Charleston Principles adopted in October 1990. Principle VIII encourages us to: Recognize the cultural diversity of communities and empower a diverse constituency to acknowledge, identify, and preserve America`s cultural and physical resources.

These goals were adopted in order to preserve the cultural heritage of all Americans, to strengthen the sense of community in America by including all Americans in all their diversity, and to provide for future generations touchstones of our common heritage.

GOAL #1:  Base historic preservation on substantial intellectual inquiry.

GOAL #2:  Base historic preservation on a genuine respect for diverse cultures in American society.

GOAL #3:  Use historic preservation to address such community goals as environmental protection, housing, education, and recreation.

GOAL #4:  Appreciate the fact that the preservation of our culturally diverse heritage creates self-esteem and a sense of pride in people and place.

GOAL #5:  Appreciate the tradition of cultural diversity in American society and the unifying force of this continuing tradition in our nation`s future.

GOAL #6:  Promote the understanding that cultural diversity supports sustainable local communities, assists with their adaption to their environment.

GOAL #7:  Acknowledge the fact that cultural groups have a right to define their own cultural values and the means by which these values will be preserved and interpreted.

GOAL #8:  Form partnerships with communities in identifying, documenting, evaluating, and protecting their ethnic and cultural heritage.

GOAL #9:  Include consideration of cultural traditions and lifeways in the national historic preservation program.

GOAL #10:  Understand the fact that historic preservation assists people in both retaining their own cultural heritage and in participating in the broader American culture.

GOAL #11:  Increase public awareness nationwide of all components of the nation`s diverse history, and promote the preservation of properties associated with this history.

GOAL #12:  Encourage existing organizations to develop culturally inclusive programs, operations, staffs, and governing bodies, and build alliance with other cultural groups.

GOAL #13:  Examine the criteria, standards, guidelines, and processes of the historic preservation movement at all levels in order to achieve the goals outlined above.

Publication Date: January/February 1993


Author(s):Peter Brink