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  • Leslie James

Saving Places Conference: Historic Preservation in Action

While I continue to enjoy working with homeowners to find the perfect antique or architectural salvage items for their residential projects, I've started to realize that the history behind a piece is as important to me as the "thrill of the hunt." I want to know about the PEOPLE behind the pieces.


In that vein, I've been searching for local partners who are actively "saving the people in the places" or "preserving the stories in the spaces." One of those late afternoon Google searches led me to a keynote that Lori Pace was giving at a virtual historic preservation conference, Saving Places.



At the time, it was still a week away, so I registered, parted with some hard earned cash, and hoped for the best.


After three days of sessions, I can confidently say that it exceeded all of my expectations. There are some amazing people all across the state of Colorado doing wonderful work to save buildings, combat systemic racism, and ensure the stories of ALL Coloradans are saved and celebrated.


Here are some notes from my favorite speakers and sessions:


Joe Minicozzi: Land Use Economics and Redlining


Joe is a gifted storyteller who uses a commonsense, visual approach to break down tough topics. As an owner of the urban planning firm, Urban3, he dives deep into the data to find the true economic engines of each city.


In his first keynote, one of his quotes really struck me:


"When you build a tax system based on value, they build junk."

He was referencing how large corporations, like Walmart, are incented to build large, cheap buildings that rapidly decrease in value, with a planned obsolescence in only 20 years. So the $20m tax value that seems good on paper is really an inefficient use of land and less of an economic driver than a mixed-use downtown building.



This is illustrated beautifully when he overlaid tax revenue on a city map. In this "geoaccounting" visual, it was easy to spot economic density and areas ripe for reinvestment. Hint: the Biltmore itself doesn't drive as much as you'd think.



He also cited a great example in Southern California in which he used old Sandborn maps to show how tearing down buildings in the 1970s to make way for a mall has resulted in an almost $15M of economic loss today based on the reduced economic density.



He also showed examples of how overconstruction of roads negatively impacts tax revenue, in addition to tearing apart the social structure of lower income communities.


In his second session, he dove deeper into the impacts of redlining. By looking at the Home Owners' Loan Corporation maps from the mid-1930s, he presented some of the racist and elitist language used to categorize neighborhoods as "hazardous."



Here's the excerpt from my own neighborhood:


It is not a typical Negro area of cheap, tumble-down ill-kept shacks found in eastern and mid-western cities, but all of the colored occupants are housed in brick structures- either detached or in terraces. For a Negro section it is very well kept up. Were it not for the heavy colored population much of it could be rated "C".

Whoa. Even just the language used in the subtext of standard categorizations is demeaning, with an "Infiltration: of Negroes" and "Detrimental Influences: Negro concentration". And it still makes me wonder if William Monticue was able to get a loan to purchase our home in 1935 because if, as a podiatrist, he was deemed a "better class of negro." In case you cannot read my tone, my blood is boiling.


But as eyeopening as it was to read this language firsthand, Joe also showed how redlining has had a direct impact on the economic growth and associated tax revenue well into modern day.



And although the blatantly racist policies are no longer in practice, inequitable policies that overburden lower income and smaller property owners continue to this day:


Looking at the financial outcomes of historic and modern day policies helps us see that the more things change, the more they have stayed the same. *sigh* It will be interesting to see whether Colorado reassesses property taxation rules now that the Gallagher Amendment has been repealed.



Lori Pace: Saving Faces in Places


Unfortunately the video of Lori's talk isn't publicly available yet, but her keynote rightfully reiterated she has been working to combat gentrification’s negative impacts on urban communities for decades. It's only really in the last year that the idea has gotten significant traction with more widespread (read: white) awareness on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement.


Similar to Joe, Lori had a lot of great soundbites.


We all know that behind every building is a great story.

She even coined a term "philanthroperty" to give voice to the need to raise money collectively to save buildings, but also reinvest that money as properties appreciate in order to continue the legacy of the people behind those properties.


Lori also reiterated that "it's not possible to move forward without looking backwards." I think we are all guilty of this sometimes. We think only of what we want to happen in the future -- appreciating property values, a mixed use community, vibrant cultural assets -- without recognizing that many of those have existed, maybe just in a different form that we are used to.


Gentrification happens when the story is removed and people are replacing what is already there.

I agree with Lori's sentiment that the only way to combat gentrification is to be an active part of the community, recognizing the stories of those who have come before. I look forward to connecting the Lori next month to find a way to support her existing efforts in the Five Points / City Park / Whittier area.



Some Other Historic Preservation Highlights

  • Learning more about the Colorado Main Street program that focuses on community-led downtown revitalization from an advocate in Windsor, and the historic preservation volunteer opportunities through Historicorps.

  • Seeing a photo of my old boss from my agency days when watching a video on historic preservation. She was working to save the Stagecoach Hotel and Barn up in Fraser.



Since tracks were split, I still have a lot of past sessions to watch. I'll report back if I find any other gems.


Sadly, I didn't realize that most of the networking opportunities were a couple of weeks before the conference. But I hope to continue to meet folks who have dedicated their careers to historic preservation in Colorado. And I cannot wait to add this conference to my list as an annual "must do."




Did you attend the Saving Places Conference? I'd love to connect and discuss how Denver Squared can help you in your historic preservation efforts!

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