Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Provincial Historic Resources and Municipal Historic Resources

Editor’s note: Welcome to the final post in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. In this post, we will discuss how the evaluation of a historic resource at the provincial and municipal level may result in complimentary or differing heritage values. You can read the previous post here.

For more information, please review the “Creating a Future” manuals available here or contact Rebecca Goodenough, Manager, Historic Places Research and Designation at rebecca.goodenough@gov.ab.ca or 780-431-2309.


Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser and Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer, Historic Resources Management Branch


Complementary and differing values

Alberta’s Historical Resources Act empowers both the Government of Alberta and municipalities to designate, or recognize and protect, a range of historic resources whose preservation is in the public interest. These resources can be places, structures or objects that may be works of nature or people (or both) that are of palaeontological, archaeological, prehistoric, historic, cultural, natural, scientific or aesthetic interest. Albertans value these historic resources because our past, in its many forms, is part of who we are as a society and helps give our present significance and purpose.

As of July 2020, there are currently 390 Provincial Historic Resources (PHR) and 413 Municipal Historic Resources (MHR) in Alberta, some 60 of which are designated both provincially and municipally. These resources merit designation for various reasons, from their association with significant events, activities, people or institutions; as representative examples of architectural styles or construction methods; for their symbolic and landmark value; or their potential to yield information of scientific value.

Heritage values are described in short Statements of Significance, which are listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. In this post, we look at examples of heritage values that municipal and provincial governments recognize and how local and provincial values may align, differ or complement each other.

Plaques or markers are often used to identify designated historic resources. These plaques, affixed to Strathcona Public Library in Edmonton, show that it has been designated as a Provincial Historic Resource and a Municipal Historic Resource. PHRs are identified by a blue, enamel button or marker. MHRs can be identified by a variety of plaques and markers depending on the procedures of the municipality. Source: Historic Resources Management.

Shared heritage value

Some historic resources are municipally and provincially designated for essentially the same reasons. The people, events or themes that give these places heritage value are of such significance that they merit designation by both levels of government. A good example of this type of site is the Nellie McClung House, a 1907 Tudor Revival style house with Arts and Crafts design elements on the interior, located in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood. The property was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1978 and as a Municipal Historic Resource by the City of Calgary in 2009. Both the provincial and municipal designations value the residence for its association with Nellie McClung, the author and member of the Famous Five who successfully helped fight for the legal recognition of women as persons.

Nellie McClung House, Calgary. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Nellie McClung, ca. 1930. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A3354.

Differing heritage values

Other resources are designated municipally and provincially for completely different reasons. This does not mean that the designations are somehow in conflict or disagreement; rather, different values or meanings come into play when the historic place is considered locally and provincially. Annandale, a large residence in the London Road neighbourhood of Lethbridge, was municipally designated in 2008 for its association with two figures significant to the city’s development. Lewis Martin Johnstone, founder of an important local law firm, built the house in 1909 and resided there until 1935. George Graham Ross, a prominent local rancher and founder of an auctioneering company, lived in the house from 1937 to 1940.

Provincial designation of the house in 2015, on the other hand, celebrates the house’s distinctive blend of Queen Anne Revival and Arts and Crafts styles reflected in the dramatic arched porch entrance, wide eaves, and other design features. It considers architectural qualities rather than associations with individuals. As a PHR, Annandale represents the development of Alberta’s rising professional class and that group’s eagerness to adopt emerging residential design trends from other parts of North America. Lewis Martin Johnstone and George Graham Ross belonged to the business elite in Lethbridge; their importance as individuals is meaningful and relevant municipally rather than provincially. In this way, provincial and municipal heritage values are distinct but of equal merit. Together they tell a richer story.

Annandale, Lethbridge. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch, 2009.
The funeral of William Henderson, Mayor of Lethbridge, proceeds along Dufferin Street, now 4 Avenue South, Lethbridge, 1909. Annandale at the extreme left. Source: Peel’s Prairie Provinces. University of Alberta Libraries, PCO12276.

Complimentary heritage value

Elsewhere, municipal and provincial heritage values may align closely and differ mainly in nuance and emphasis, as they do at the Maccoy Homestead in High River. Established in 1883 by Andy Bell as a fishing lodge and guest house near the Highwood River, this former rural property is now enveloped by the growth of the town. The site consists of a whitewashed log cabin with a frame addition, a guesthouse, garage, root cellar and other elements that speak to its former agricultural use. The property was municipally designated in 2009 as the Sheppard/Maccoy House for its heritage value as one of the town’s oldest residences, for its ties to the settlement of the High River region, and as the home of notable High River families and individuals. These include Clydesdale breeder William Ikin, subsistence and dairy farmers Henry and Evelyn Sheppard and, especially, the Sheppards’ daughter Ruth Maccoy, who owned and ran the farm for many decades until 1995.

In 2015, the province designated the Maccoy Homestead as an excellent example of the development of agricultural farmsteads in the foothills region and for the site’s association with the contribution of women’s labour to homesteading and agriculture in Alberta. Where the municipal significance is rooted in individuals and the role of the place in local and regional history, provincial designation references province-wide themes of agricultural development and the role of women in agricultural society.

Maccoy Homestead, High River. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch, 2018.

Conclusions

PHRs and MHRs share a Canadian, “values-based” heritage framework based on widely adopted significance criteria. Differing values, where they occur, often reflect differences of context rather than degree of significance.  For example, MHRs are more likely to be locally recognized historic landmarks, where as on a provincial level, designation with heritage value as landmarks are applied more rarely and only to resources, places and landscapes widely recognized across  the province, such as the Frank Slide or the Legislature Building, or metaphorically to regional icons with widespread provincial recognition like grain elevators. Whether they align, differ or complement each other, municipal and provincial heritage values are equally protected when sites are designated under the Historical Resources Act. In both cases, the objective is the same: to conserve heritage value recognized by Albertans for future generations.

Municipal Historic Resource spotlight: Lethbridge

Written by: Ron Kelland, MA, MLIS

Over the past few months, some of Alberta’s municipalities have been protecting their built heritage by designating a number of new Municipal Historic Resources (MHRs). These resources are structures and other sites that the municipality has deemed to be of significant heritage value to their community. Like Provincial Historic Resources, municipal designations are listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. Municipally designated properties also qualify for conservation grants from the Alberta Historic Resources Foundation.

The City of Lethbridge recently added six new MHRs to the Alberta Register of Historic Places. As of May 31, 2019, the City of Lethbridge has 26 designated MHRs listed.

The most recent listed designations by the City of Lethbridge are:

Watson Residence

Located in the Victoria Park neighbourhood on 14th Street South between 3rd and 4th Avenue, the Watson Residence is an Edwardian Foursquare with classical revival detailing and ornamentation. It was built in 1910/11. It has heritage value as an example of residential construction during Lethbridge’s rapid expansion in the pre-First World War period, and as an excellent example of an urban foursquare home. It was also the residence of Allan James Watson, who was a long-serving superintendent of the Lethbridge School District.

Watson Residence, Lethbridge, Alberta
Watson Residence, Lethbridge, February 2019. Source: Historic Resources Management, Government of Alberta

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Thanks for the memories!

I came this close to writing this post in the third person. I then returned to my senses, and decided to just go for it and write a brief personal message here to you terrific RETROactive readers. I’ll be moving on from my much-loved role of Manager, Municipal Heritage Services. In early February, I’ll be returning to my hometown of Chilliwack, B.C., where I’ll be serving as Executive Director of that historic community’s Museum and Archives.

Matthew Francis led the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program and the Alberta Main Street Program from 2007-2015
Matthew Francis led the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program and the Alberta Main Street Program from 2007-2015

My long-time colleague Michael Thome, who will be serving as Acting Manager, asked me to share a few fun memories. So here goes:

  • Spending more than 100 days ‘on the road’ in 2006, when we were launching the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program, conducting “MHPP Roadshows” in Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat, as well as presenting to over 75 municipal councils! You don’t realize the sheer scale, breadth, and beauty of Alberta until you get out driving its highways and backroads. Most people don’t realize that a municipality like Mackenzie County or Wood Buffalo are larger than Switzerland!
  • Getting to know all of the best burgers and fries places across Alberta. (You’ll have to get in touch with me if you want access to this top-secret list!) 
  • Launching the Municipal Heritage Forum as a “Summit for Stakeholders” in 2006. Back then, there were lots of people doing great local heritage conservation work across Alberta, but most of them didn’t know each other well. That first Forum, which we put on at the World Trade Centre in Edmonton – gave people a chance to get to know each other, and put a face to a name. After that, people doing heritage in Smoky Lake County or Yellowhead County felt free to call other people they had met, ask questions, and share what had worked for them. Since then the Forum has of course grown, and I am thrilled to see how delegates have really taken ownership of it and made it their own dynamic, learning community.
  •  We saw a new way forward for the Alberta Main Street Program, and built a flexible and sustainable paradigm of doing a fantastic program, that needed a new approach. Now, we have a tremendous, creative network of historic communities (Lethbridge, Olds, Old Strathcona, Camrose, and Wainwright), animating their heritage commercial districts with energy, conservation, and high-quality urbanism.
  • I remember attending one Council meeting (at a municipality which shall remain nameless), where the delegation presenting before me was a zealous farmer who came in coveralls, straight from the harvest fields – and slammed a heavy rock down on the Council table – THUD! He was irate and relayed the story that the County staff must have knocked this rock into his field during Winter snow removal, as he insisted he “hadn’t had a rock like that in his field for three generations!” The rock had been kicked up and shattered the window of his combine. He requested compensation for half the cost of replacing the damaged window. I thought the man’s claim was reasonable. Before you knew it – there was a motion passed to provide the compensation. Now that’s democracy in action! (That same County did then proceed to do some tremendous heritage planning work over the next few years, legally protecting a number of its significant historic places through Municipal Historic Resources designation).
  • We saw the number of designated Municipal Historic Resources (legally protected by local governments) grow exponentially, from under 70 in 2006 to well over 300 in 2015, with 240 already listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places!

Of all the memories of projects – from Pincher Creek down south to Fort Vermilion up north – I still have to say the greatest memories are the people. Working with local Heritage Advisory Boards was so enjoyable because the “why” is so compelling. The people who do it are there for a reason – they love their historic places! It was also great to work collaboratively with the municipal staff and heritage planners across the province. I know that I have learned a lot from their knowledge and experience – and there is still so much to learn! And, of course, I had the privilege of working as colleagues day in, day out with the best team of heritage professionals in Canada here at Historic Resources Management.

Front Cover of MHPP Manual

Thanks – to all of you – for the memories! Let’s keep on creating a future for our historic places.

Written by: Matthew Francis, former Manager, Municipal Heritage Services.

Growing Main Street Network meets in Lethbridge for Training

Leaders in the Alberta Main Street Program met in Lethbridge this week for their quarterly network meeting and some strategic training. The Main Street Program is a dynamic network of communities engaged in community regeneration through heritage conservation.

Alberta Main Street Program Leaders during their Lethbridge meeting, August 276, 2104
Alberta Main Street Program Leaders during their Lethbridge meeting, August 276, 2104

As frequent  RETROactive readers will remember, the network met earlier this year in Olds, and then also in May at the U.S. National Trust Main Street Conference in Detroit, Michigan. This meeting was the first for Old Strathcona since joining the program in May, and also the first for Camrose’s new Main Street Coordinator, Janet Hatch.

Each community presented a brief update on the work of their program, including organizational work in Camrose and Old Strathcona, and streetscape initiatives and adaptive re-use projects in Olds and Wainwright.

A walking tour was co-led by Ted Stilson, Executive Director of the Downtown Lethbridge BRZ and Main Street Coordinator, and Belinda Crowson, President of the Historical Society of Alberta. As we strolled through the historic downtown area, on a warm Farmer’s Market morning, Main Street leaders were able to see first-hand some of the significant heritage conservation work that has taken place in Lethbridge under the auspices of the Main Street Program.

Main Street leaders take notes on how Lethbridge's historic downtown has thrived.
Main Street leaders take notes on how Lethbridge’s historic downtown has thrived.

The group especially appreciated getting a tour of the work in progress on the Bow On Tong Building, which has also been featured on RETROactive.

After the walking tour and lunch at Mocha Cabana, one of the City of Lethbridge’s Municipal Historic Resources, historically known as Bell’s Welding, the group participated in a lively training workshop led by Jim Mountain, Director of Regeneration Projects for Heritage Canada the National Trust.

Jim Mountain, Director of Regeneration Projects for the Heritage Canada Foundation.
Jim Mountain, Director of Regeneration Projects for the Heritage Canada Foundation.

Jim facilitated a very informative, interactive session on “The Role of the Main Street Coordinator.” His insights, gleaned from years of experience as a practitioner in heritage-led regeneration – both in Fort Macleod and across Canada – were beneficial for both our seasoned veteran Coordinators and also our newer leaders.

Alberta’s Main Street leaders are already looking forward to the next network meeting and training session, to be held in Old Strathcona at the end of November.

 

 

Meet the Keynote Speakers

Registration for the 2014 Municipal Heritage Forum is now open and we have two fantastic keynote speakers who will present their work as it relates to our theme: New Ideas for Historic Places: Conservation through Technology and Innovation.

Kayla Jonas Galvin
Kayla Jonas Galvin

Kayla Jonas Galvin is deeply involved in creating social media content. She tweets at @jonaskayla and has her own blog Adventures in Heritage. Kayla works as the Heritage Operations Manager at Archaeological Research Associates where she runs the Twitter (@araheritage), Pintrest (ARAHeritage) and LinkedIn Accounts. She sits on the board of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, which focus on heritage education and advocacy in Ontario. There she is the social media manager for their Facebook and Twitter (@arconserve) accounts and Editor of their ACORN magazine. Her previous employment at the Heritage Resources Centre at the University of Waterloo involved managing their social media and communication, as well as developing Building Stories, a crowd-sourced survey of historic places across Canada.

Kayla will be speaking about how social media can assist in the conservation of local historic sites. Kayla will explain the power of social media to conserve local heritage places and how you can tap into it. She will give a brief introduction to the social media sites of Facebook and Twitter as well as introduce Building Stories, a crowd-sourcing site. Drawing on her experience managing multiple platforms for businesses and not-for- profit organizations she will share practical lessons on how to use each effectively to engage your community.

Larry Laliberte
Larry Laliberté

Larry Laliberté is a librarian with over ten years’ experience working with GIS and spatial data. Currently he is the GIS Librarian at the University of Alberta where much of his work revolves around analyzing and synthesizing spatial information at many scales, across many disciplines, in various formats. Over the last decade, he has developed and maintained an online collection of historical maps of Manitoba and recently, taken a great interest in developing best practices for the long term preservation of digital geospatial data.

Larry’s presentation will focus on how Historical GIS can be used to link collections. Over the past ten years, many historical library collections have been digitized (textual, numerical, photos, maps) and made available online; however, they often exist on standalone platforms isolated from other digital collections. Using the 1913/14 Fire Insurance Plans of Edmonton as an example, Larry’s presentation will highlight how thinking spatially about local digital collections and combining the power of GIS and geovisualization can open up interesting ways of linking collections.

Please join us October 16th and 17th in Lacombe to hear these heritage advocates share their knowledge.

Written by: Rebecca Goodenough, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Municipal Heritage Partnership Program Empowers Governments to Protect Local Historic Places

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services, describes his role this way: “I manage all of the Government of Alberta’s work with municipalities to protect their historic places.” One focus of his job is running the Alberta Main Street Program. The other is leading the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program (MHPP). Both are done with the help of two Municipal Heritage Services Officers.

Matthew Francis, Manager, Municipal Heritage Services.
Matthew Francis, Manager, Municipal Heritage Services.

The Municipal Heritage Partnership Program was established in 2006 to give municipalities across Alberta the training and tools to start up and run their own heritage conservation programs in a way that “represents the best practice of what the Historical Resources Act requires.”

Matthew, who joined the branch the year before, has worked with this program from its start. He explains: “Municipalities in Alberta had been empowered since 1978 to designate their own historic places, but most of them didn’t know about that. Only a handful of communities—Calgary, Edmonton, Banff, Red Deer—had ever designated something at the local level. [The others thought,] ‘This is something we have to go to the Province [to do]’.”

“So the first several years were really about building awareness. I spent almost 100 days on the road in 2006 going all over Alberta—small towns and cities, and everywhere. We were able to tell them, this can be done locally around the council table, and through a bylaw, and we gave them the background on that, and the training, the tools.”

MHPP staff members lead workshops for local government staff, volunteers, and sometimes elected officials as well, to train them in how to protect locally significant historic places by using recognized tools. The main identification tools are surveys: research projects that gather basic historical and architectural information on possible historic resources. Conducting a survey can be a first step toward developing a comprehensive heritage conservation program. MHPP also offers workshops on heritage inventories: projects that helps a community identify places of outstanding local significance and develop a deep understanding of each place that will help the municipality determine how to protect and conserve it.

The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation offers matching grants to municipalities in Alberta that are undertaking surveys or heritage inventories or that are developing heritage management plans. MHPP staff often help municipalities craft viable survey or inventory projects that are likely to be funded by the Foundation. The MHPP also helps to evaluate grant applications, making funding recommendations to the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Sometimes staff must overcome scepticism or even hostility of those who think heritage conservation is anti-progress. Matthew responds: “A lot of people when they think about their historic buildings, they think about the past, and we’re more concerned about saying, does that place have a future? That’s the conversation that we’re trying to have.”

Ideally, each municipality will first establish what the MHPP calls a Heritage Advisory Board (HAB), although it may have a different name locally. If the local government decides to seriously pursue the conservation of its historic resources, MHPP staff will meet with the board and others to explain that process and make sure they understand the three key aspects of evaluation: eligibility, significance, and integrity. Heritage consultants—historians, planners, or others with a conservation-related background—typically do the survey or inventory work under the direction of the advisory board.

As a central part of this work, the consultant will produce a document called a Statement of Significance for each historic place, which describes why the community values the place and what about it needs protection to preserve its significance. The HAB must be able to assess the quality of each Statement of Significance, making sure that each document accurately describes the significance and integrity of the historic resource(s) discussed. The HAB will make a recommendation on designation to the municipal council.

“Our place is not to intervene in [designation decisions],” Matthew says. “Municipalities in Alberta can designate whatever they want. They’re empowered to do that. It’s the community that has the local knowledge, and that’s what we’re trying to draw out.” But, ideally, the local government will learn how to make good decisions about heritage designation—decisions that are consistent across the community and also consistent with the best practices that are in use throughout Alberta. Municipalities may also establish their own regulations for the protection of their designated historic places.

“I really love working with the Heritage Advisory Boards.” Matthew reflects. “They’re volunteers for the most part, and they’re there for a reason—it’s usually because they have some sort of personal connection to these historic places that are meaningful to them in their community. A really enjoyable part of the work is getting to hear some of those stories.”

Today, MHPP staff members usually work with a municipality by invitation, although sometimes they’ll contact a local government proactively. This may be initiated by inquiries from private citizens concerned about protecting a specific historic place. When that happens, the MHPP staff member will urge them to contact their local government, but then will follow up with government staff to discuss the option of historic resource designation to protect the resource. “And from there we’ll say, ‘Have you thought more comprehensively about taking a look at all your historic places?’”

The annual Municipal Heritage Forum, a project of Municipal Heritage Services, supports these efforts. “Before 2007 people doing heritage conservation locally in different communities had very little connection with each other,” Matthew recalls. The first forum in 2007, called a Summit for Stakeholders, had about 40 participants. “It was basically just bringing the people together and giving them some information,” Matthew says. “But [we saw that] it’s the sharing of information [that’s important]. It’s really great to see the local knowledge increase and for that information to be shared peer-to-peer.” The forum now attracts about 125 attendees each year, and has become an eagerly anticipated event for heritage professionals and advocates across Alberta.

The Municipal Heritage Partnership Program has now worked with more than 100 municipalities, and it continues to help “repeat customers” as well as communities that are new to heritage conservation. The MHPP keeps evolving, along with the communities it serves. We’ve worked with communities now that have been through the awareness cycle, so they know how to do [heritage designation], and they’re taking a high degree of ownership for this, which is what we always intended,” Matthew explains. The next step, he says, is helping them integrate heritage conservation into other urban planning initiatives—“not [treating it] like an appendage or an afterthought. Two of the flood-impacted communities we work with—High River and Medicine Hat—are working on major initiatives with their downtown planning, and I think they are leading the way on some of this.”

Municipalities have evaluated well over 1,000 historic places across Alberta since the program’s beginnings, “and that’s the number we keep an eye on,” Matthew says. “Not all of those places have been or will be designated or be protected,” he adds, “but at least they’re known. We know about them, and the communities know about them—and that’s really what matters most.”

Written by: Kerri Rubman.

Register Now for the 2014 Municipal Heritage Forum!

MHF v1

We are pleased to announce that registration for this year’s Municipal Heritage Forum is now open!

The Forum is being held on October 16th and 17th at the Lacombe Memorial Centre in the City of Lacombe. The theme for this year’s Forum is “New Ideas for Historic Places: Conservation through Technology and Innovation”.

Our keynote speakers for this year include Kayla Jonas Galvin of Archaeological Research Associates in Kitchner, Ontario and Larry Laliberté, GIS Librarian at the University of Alberta. Kayla specializes in social media and will be speaking about how you can use social media to conserve local historic places and Larry will be presenting his research on the application of Geographical Information Systems and geovisualization to linking local digital collections.

Kayla Jonas Galvin
Kayla Jonas Galvin

Larry Laliberte
Larry Laliberté

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A preliminary version of the Forum schedule is available here. Registration is available online. Space is limited so please register today.

We look forward to seeing you in beautiful Lacombe!

 

Designing Window Displays and Coping with Road Construction – Tips and Tricks Learned from the 2014 Main Street Conference

The National Main Streets Conference is a big event. This year over 1,400 people attended the conference and there were approximately 75 sessions to choose from. Needless to say it was difficult to choose which sessions to attend. Of the sessions that I attended two stood out for me as being really helpful for our Main Street members: “The Naked Truth about Well-Dressed Windows” and “Main Street Makeover – Surviving and Thriving during Construction”.

Storefront Windows

Store owners only have a few seconds to convince a passerby to enter their establishment. The quality and interest of store window displays goes a long way in enticing potential shoppers. “The Naked Truth about Well-Dressed Windows” provided by Seanette Corkill of Frontdoor Back, a retail consultant based out of Vancouver, Washington, included a lot of practical advice on how to plan for and manage your window displays.

Seanette covered planning and investment for window dressings and stressed the importance of budgeting for lighting and props to build a collection that can be used over time. The decision on what type of backdrop to use is important and you can choose from full disclosure (store is visible behind the display), partial disclosure (where the store is partially visible but separated from the display) and closed (display blocked from the rest of the store). Decals are a good addition to storefront but they should be modest in size, not interrupt sightlines and placed to direct the eye to the display itself. Lighting is immensely important and should consist of tracked lighting that will light the top and front of the product on display.

The Artworks in Edmonton is known for its creative window displays. © Google Streetview
The Artworks in Edmonton is known for its creative window displays. © Google Streetview

Road Construction

Switching topics from the pretty to the dirty, Kristi Trevarrow’s session on “Surviving and Thriving during Construction” drew on her role with the Rochester Downtown Development Authority in coordinating a main street upgrade project in Rochester, Michigan. The project involved a complete overhaul of the roads, underground services and streetscape and affected their downtown main street for several months. Her responsibility was to minimize the impact of the construction project on local businesses.

Main Street Rochester, MI. © Google Streetview
Main Street Rochester, MI. © Google Streetview

According to Kristi, the key to managing business during a successful construction project is pre-planning and communication. In her case, Kristi started holding information meetings two years in advance of the construction and met with everyone she could think of including business owners, residents, local organizations, major employers, property owners and adjacent municipalities. Communications for the project included a project website with regular updates; a brochure with frequently asked questions for businesses to hand out to their patrons; a comprehensive media engagement strategy; social media updates; a field office on the main street for the project (which they built into the project contract); monthly community meetings throughout the duration of the project; and last but not least, a presence on the street every day during construction to field questions and respond to concerns. There were still hiccups that occurred along the way but the high level of planning and engagement by the Development Authority minimized negative experiences.

Both high quality window displays and infrastructure renewal projects can go a long way to ensuring your main street is looking top notch. These sessions were helpful in teaching the ins and outs of how to schedule and manage aesthetic projects from the small to large.

Written by: Rebecca Goodenough, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

 

National Main Street Conference

This is the second in a series of posts on our experience attending the National Main Street Conference in Detroit.

I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 National Main Street Conference recently, in Detroit, Michigan. Several Albertans were there with me, including four people representing two of our main street communities: the Town of Olds and the City of Camrose. The (U.S.) Main Street Program has been operating in the United States for over 35 years now. As Alberta continues to revitalizes our its Main Street program, we continue to learn from the American counterpart.

The Canadians after the opening plenary session. Each american state formed a delegation, so we formed one of our own.
The Canadians after the opening plenary session. Each american state formed a delegation, so we formed one of our own.

In the late 1970s, the (U.S.) National Trust for Historic Preservation was exploring ways to facilitate the preservation of historic downtowns. All over North America, businesses and residents had been leaving downtown and moving to new suburban neighbourhoods and consequently many historic places were neglected and being abandoned. The National Trust realized that solving the problem would not be as simple as restoring dilapidated buildings; restoring historic commercial areas meant bringing people back down town. It launched a three-year Main Street Project in 1977 to study ways to revitalise declining downtowns. The main street pilot project was so successful that it was made a permanent program in 1980 and was soon helping hundreds of communities throughout the United States revitalise their historic commercial areas.

A Main Street project works by pursuing four equally important activities: organizing business owners and residents around a common purpose; economic restructuring or strengthening the existing businesses while also diversifying the mixture of business types; designing a functional and pleasant streetscape that highlights the authentic historic places; and promotion, or rekindling a sense of pride in the downtown. Economic restructuring ensures that businesses are successful and the Main Street is able to pay its own way. Design ensures that Main Street has a functional and pleasant streetscape—built around authentic historic buildings—and creates an inviting place that people want to work, live and play in. Promotion ensures that the community (and visitors from away) know what the area has to offer and feel welcome. Organization ensures that business owners, residents and other stakeholders take shared responsibility for the success of their downtown.

The keynote by Donovan Rypkema presented a straightforward and compelling explanation of how the program works and why it works so well. (Mr. Rypkema is an internationally regarded specialist in the economics of historic preservation.) He argued that Main Street is the most effective, sustainable and “cheapest” economic development strategy he’s come across, for historic areas or otherwise. This is because the four pillars of a Main Street align with the four factors that set the value of real estate.

Mr. Rypkema compared the four pillars of Main Street (design, organization, economic restructuring and promotion) with the four forces of value: economic, physical, social, and political. Mr. Rypkema talked about how Main Street works because each of the four points is aimed at increasing a corresponding area of value. When an area restructures economically by ensuring a mixture of complementary businesses, it increases the number of visitors and therefore the profitability of each business and consequently the value of the real estate.

A Main Street Program adds to the physical value of property when it restores dilapidated historic places and otherwise upgrades the streetscape. It adds to the social value of property by improving how the community feels about the area, by increasing local pride in a historic area. Finally, it adds to the political value of property when the range of possible, profitable and acceptable uses increases. He calls it the most successful economic restructuring programs ever tried in the United States. (On a somewhat related note, Mr. Rypkema joked that Main Street was working on smart growth and new urbanism before these planning philosophies were proposed.)

The best part about the conference was the opportunity to learn from peers in the Main Street movement. There were excellent sessions around all the four points. I attended lots of sessions on using social media effectively (big surprise) and community organization. I highly suggest that anyone interested in these ideas look into the National Main Street Center. I look forward to perhaps attending next year’s in Atlanta, Georgia.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Thoughts on Detroit

You have no doubt heard of the trials and tribulations of the City of Detroit: the near death of the auto industry, massive population loss, infrastructure woes and high crime rates. The negative connotations have led to a public image of a city abandoned and in upheaval whereas the best-case-scenario associations portray it as a playground of urban decay and rock-bottom housing prices. When I learned that the National Main Street Conference was being held in Detroit this year, I was pleased that I would be able to see it for myself, albeit in the cocoon of a programmed conference setting.

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Having now been there I can make a few comments. First, it is a stunning city. There are architectural marvels (both in use and abandoned), striking parks and trail networks and an eclectic mix of things to do. Second, the city is hard at work. Travelling in and around the downtown core, there is evidence of a community working to rebuild and repair. Third, the city seems to be acutely aware of the volunteerism and resources required to improve its image. Bike patrols and on-foot clean-up crews strive to ensure the downtown core is safe and clean. Residents are cheerful and exceptionally welcoming.

This said, did I really see Detroit? Visiting as part of a conference I no doubt had a curated experience of the city and limited time for exploration. It is important to remember that there are layers that we do not understand: a history of labour and race disputes, urban renewal programs and community activism. There is a long-standing population who is probably growing weary from being under the microscope. I would encourage everyone to visit and appreciate the people, public spaces and community spirit, along with the many restaurants, sports events, markets, museums, and music that make up Detroit. However, visit with an appreciation of the modern urban realities facing the city. Acknowledge and be aware of the complex layers of economic, social and political issues (past and present) that continue to inform the fabric of the city. Detroit is a fascinating and many-faceted city and I would encourage you to make the trip.

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Stay tuned for upcoming posts about the content of the National Main Streets Conference!

Written by: Rebecca Goodenough, Municipal Heritage Services Officer