Thursday, May 07, 2015

Historic Preservation Month in Downtown Tacoma & the Proliferation of Awareness

A few years back I noticed a trend.

What I noticed was the awareness and advocacy tactic of establishing various months, weeks, or days set aside to celebrate and educate around a particular interest or issue of importance.

You know, like its Bike Month in May.  It was National Poetry Month in April. June will be National Safety Month, which seems a broad category, and leaves me with visions of a promotional campaign that involves people dancing in hard hats and bright orange vests to one of my favorite 80’s jams Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.

It can be easy to poke fun at some of these. At its worst, it can be like the greeting card industry and its proliferation of ridiculous holidays for the purpose of creating pounds of floral colored and sentimental garbage.

I feel bad for some months that are so overrun with holidays and causes that they seem weary. Take poor February for instance. I mean, she is already often quite a dreary month around these parts. She is also the shortest month and yet we have crammed so much responsibility into her small arms.

Beyond the obvious celebrations in February which include Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, and President’s Day – other monthly observances include:  International Hoof-Care Month, Marijuana Awareness Month, Pull Your Sofa Off The Wall Month, Return Shopping Carts to Supermarket Month, and Spunky Old Broads Month.

A few of my favorite weekly and daily observances in February include:  Just Say No to Power Point Week, Shower with a Friend Day, Blame Someone Else Day, Cow Milked While Flying in an Airplane Day, and International Sword Swallowers Day.

However, once we put down the low hanging fruit and stop throwing it, I have to admit that many of these awareness observances have led to important education and advocacy around significant issues.

Well, whatever you think of these awareness observances, they are here to stay. Bike Month is off to a great start and you may or may not know that this month is also National Historic Preservation Month.

National Historic Preservation Month was established in 1973, by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in order to promote historic preservation and community pride in local heritage sites.

This May, the theme for Tacoma's Historic Preservation Month is I Heart Tacoma: Celebrate Tacoma's Unique Cultural Heritage.

The City of Tacoma's Historic Preservation Office and many local partners, have worked together to create a month-long calendar of events that highlight the different aspects of Tacoma's historic resources and heritage community.  You can see the menu of activities that are happening here:

The first of these events is the Amazing Preservation Race, which takes place this Saturday May 9 at 11 am in downtown Tacoma. The race begins at Tollefson Plaza and ends at Wright Park. Teams of up to four people will learn about Tacoma's cultural and historic resources as they complete family-friendly challenges throughout downtown Tacoma! For more information or to register go here:

Sometimes historical preservation can be a controversial subject. As a community development and neighborhood revitalization consultant, I deal with these conversations and tensions often. What I can say is that historical preservation is an important part of the cultural and aesthetic landscape of vibrant cities. However, preservation needs to be balanced with other concerns as well.

Creative adaptive uses are an important part of the equation, but sometimes the expenses of adapting for new uses or just making a space safe, requires that we face the reality that not every structure can be preserved.

We are always balancing progress and preservation it seems. But, I don’t think the two have to be mutually exclusive and there are plenty of examples of progress that include the preservation and celebration of the art and history of old structures.

Identifiable and iconic structures are a part of how we create a sense of place and a unique identity for a community, but they aren't the only consideration. I’d argue the most important way we create a sense of place is through the people that inhabit those spaces - who work, live, and play in those spaces.

Whenever we put bricks and mortar ahead of preserving and developing the quality of life for residents, we lose site of the initial intent behind a structures construction in the first place and the efforts to preserve them. For me, the debate is embedded in that tension. Well-meaning and articulate people alike can often disagree within the debate, but I believe that is the kind of civil discourse that is the foundation of a strong community.

If you can’t make it out to the Amazing Preservation Race this Saturday, I encourage you as you ride your bike around Tacoma this month, to take time to notice and appreciate some of our historic structures. I have worked with many folks on the Landmarks Commission and within the historical preservation efforts in Tacoma – they've done some good work and there is more good work to do.

Oh, also, I look forward to celebrating National Hoof Month with you all next February!

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