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Thread: Opportunities in historic preservation-driven development

  1. #1
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    Opportunities in historic preservation-driven development

    Hi all,

    I'm a newcomer to the board and am interested in historic preservation (majored in History as an undergrad), particularly where it intersects with development/re-development. I've know there are some graduate programs out there with concentrations in historic preservation and I've only just begun to think about pursuing one (I live in NC, so UNC is a possibility for me). But right now I'm most curious about what possible career opportunities might be out there for someone interested in combining historic preservation with development, specifically where historic preservation is the driving force of the development. Private sector? Public sector? Non-proft? I'm open to all possibilities, although I have to admit pay off is an issue for me as I do want to live a certain kind of lifestyle and provide for a family.

    Thanks! Any and all thoughts are appreciated!

  2. #2
         
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    I am the Historic Preservation planner for the City of St. Charles. We have new development and re-development here in our City and we have found a great balance between the two in the years that I have been here. We have made some mistakes but we learn from them (ugly windows, structure too small, site plan didn't work well, etc). Currently, I am working as the Project Manager for an Economic Enhancement plan for one of our districts on the National Register (we have several). This project is primarily to revitalize the area without destroying the historic nature of the district. Its a 5-9 year project, we have been at it for the past 2 or so.
    It really depends on what you want to do. I love this project, as I am seeing the "little things" really beginning to take shape (street furniture, plantings, new businesses on the street, etc) I also have a thriving historic district and there ALL I do is preservation, ensure no one changes anything on a structure so as not to destory the historic ambiance of the district...
    This is all from the public side. On the private side, I work with a lot of great consultants that really do understand the importance of the districts (and if they didn't before working on South Main Street, they surely understand it now ) and I have some that have no regard for the 100 + year old buildings on the street.
    If you are looking for $ I suggest private enterprise and re-development. Salary in the public sector are not great, I am fortunate that mine is sufficient (we have a large casino in the area that helps with Staff salaries ). Often times, preservation and revitalization in communities is a grassroot effort and there isnt a lot of money to pay Staff.
    It is rewarding however. I was at a dinner last night and was listening to many of the oldest buisness owners on South Mian Street talk about the days when the used car lots and trailers took over Main Street, and how they see themselves today as the "caretakers" etc. There is a LOT of pride that goes into this kind of work.

  3. #3

    Historic preservation = landscape architecture

    Hello fellow historian!

    Your dream was mine at one time, but mine got totally screwed up in my misunderstanding of the topic and my misunderstanding of our higher education system. I'll share part of my painful tale just in case it might help prevent a similar situation. I have a BA in history, American, western migration, immigrants looking to fulfill the American dream, own land, find a safe place, prosperity, a location with freedom from religious and other forms of persecution. People build their hopes and aspirations into their homes and communities, creating places from the sublime to the vernacular well worth celebrating and preserving, thus historic preservation.

    This is wonderful, I wanted to learn more. I applied to and was accepted in the master's program in history with an emphasis in historic preservation, at a "major U.S. university". I attended for one semester. Here is the problem I ran into: Historic Preservation was not in the Dept. of History, it was in the Dept. of Landscape Architecture. I did not know this. Noone told me this when I made my inquiries by phone and letter and submitted my application expressing my interest in this field. I was told that taking classes in historic preservation was perfectly acceptable and I was welcome to take one per semester. I signed up and took my one course in historic preservation which was wonderful. I learned all about the sense and sacredness of place, vernacular vs. monumental architecture, dove-tail vs. pegged joints, how Capability Brown and the American rhododendron destroyed the English countryside, and that Welsch castles are falling to ruins because noone can afford to heat them.

    In the meantime, I took my two American History courses. I discovered that 8 new grad students had entered the program that year, 7 in the phD program and myself. The purpose of the history courses seemed to be to focus on a narrow topic that everyone else seemed to have already chosen, and devote all reading and discussion to this topic. I bailed out. (and have been holding my tongue in the grad school discussion forums)

    I think historic preservation is a wonderful subject and it eventually led me into planning of which historic preservation is one of many parts. But, preservation really is focused more in the field of landscape architecture than history. Oh, and yes, there are opportunities in the field, but be sure you understand what the field entails.

  4. #4
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    Follow-up

    Thanks for your comments. I've been reading up on brownfield redevelopment and adaptive reuse, which I find fascinating. Any thoughts on what sort of education/training that arena would require? Some sort of planning degree with a concentration in historic preservation? A public policy degree with an emphasis on land use issue? Or something more business-oriented such as an MBA (or perhaps even a JD)?

  5. #5
    Finance, Finance, Finance. Should I say it again? Finance!

    This is the glaring weakness with so many of my fellow preservationists. We can rat out all the grant money / tax credits you can shake a stick at -- it's the private money, though, that really makes redevelopment / brownfield /adaptive reuse projects go. And most preservationists don't have strong finance backgrounds that can develop project pro formas that get lenders / investors interested.

    I'd go with a real estate degree with emphasis in preservation if you want to be packaging deals. If you want to regulate the projects, then I'd go preservation / public policy. If you want to build them, then I'd go trades with a specialty such as historic masonry restoration, carpentry or so forth.

    Good luck!
    Batter up!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by WBH
    Thanks for your comments. I've been reading up on brownfield redevelopment and adaptive reuse, which I find fascinating. Any thoughts on what sort of education/training that arena would require? Some sort of planning degree with a concentration in historic preservation? A public policy degree with an emphasis on land use issue? Or something more business-oriented such as an MBA (or perhaps even a JD)?
    The skills you need are a combination of economic development finance, real estate, planning, public administration, grant writing, and environmental science. It does not matter which degree program you graduate from, so long as you have these skills.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  7. #7
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    Follow-up #2

    Thanks again, everyone, for your feedback on the education question. Now ... any ideas on good places to get practical experience with brownfields redevelopment/preservation/adaptive reuse, etc.? As grad school would be at least a year or two away for me, what kind of work experience would be valuable in the meantime?

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