On May 5, 2016 several residents of the Bethlehem Historic District attended a conference on “Historic Preservation: Respecting a Community’s Past While Planning its Future.” The conference was sponsored by the South Bethlehem Historic Organization in partnership with several other south side organizations. Given the many issues Bethlehem has faced over the past year, both on the south and north side of town, it was a great overview of the various components of successful historical preservation while at the same time ensuring the livability and economic viability of a city.
Cory R. Kegerise, the Community Preservation Coordinator, Eastern Region, Pennsylvania Historic Preservation and Museum Commission made a presentation entitled “Putting the Pieces Together: Making Preservation Happen Through Good Planning and Policy” emphasized that change happens and is necessary. It is the degree of change and how it’s implemented that’s important. Diversity in the age, style, size and type of buildings is critical in successful neighborhoods and older buildings have value beyond aesthetic or historical value. He highlighted change can best be managed when the community’s overall intent (what they want and need), it’s resources and enabling environment are well aligned and work together. However, there are often gaps in these areas including conflicts between building codes, community policies, preservation ordinances, zoning codes and economic planning.
Erin Hammerstedt, Field Representative, Preservation Pennsylvania, made a presentation entitled “ New Construction in Historic Districts – Recognizing Sense of Place; New Design Factors to be Considered; Striking a Balance: Different but Compatible.” She reviewed several architectural concepts in considering new construction or rehabilitation in historic districts. With respect to new construction she noted that identifying and preserving character defining features allows for change to accommodate the historic feel. She emphasized considering the sense of place and ensuring the new design strikes a balance between “different” but “compatible.” She reviewed several factors to consider in striking this balance and stated that form, scale and massing were most important. If they were wrong, architectural details alone would not achieve compatibility. She also reviewed other architectural styles and features that would make new construction more compatible, including rhythm/fenestration (floor heights, window size and placement, etc.) materials, texture, color, durability, repairability, and ancillary features. She reviewed the various ways communities have approached the different but compatible concept – Literal replication, invention within a style, abstract reference and intentional opposition.
Karen Beck Pooley, PhD Senior Associate, czb, LLC (a neighborhood planning firm) and Adjunct Professor at Lehigh University made a presentation entitled “The Value of Historic Preservation in the Revitalization of Urban Neighborhoods.” She reviewed successful preservation efforts and how they helped revitalize their urban neighborhoods. She mentioned Alexandria, VA, Lafayette Square in St. Louis, Mexican War Streets in Pittsburgh, Cumberland, MD, Mt. Airy, PA and Charleston, SC. The intersection between economic development versus historical preservation and what attracts people to a community was the main focus of her presentation. Many towns are increasingly focusing on how to make their community a place people will want to be and live and that in turn will attract business to relocate there. People are attracted to walkable cities with interesting streetscapes, multiple civic amenities, humane architecture, human scale and neighborhood diversity. To generate diversity a city needs multiple primary focuses, blocks that are short, buildings varying in age and condition, and thus produce varying economic yield, and dense concentration of people. For diversity to flourish cities need a mingling of high, middling, low and no yield enterprises. An area with only new buildings can accommodate only tenants who can pay the high costs of new construction. Aged buildings provide authenticity and allow for low yield incubator space for new businesses, which are essential to provide vitality and affordability. Historic preservation is a key way for cities to compete for visitors and residents as it allows the city to build on a humane scale and create more visually interesting urban streetscapes. She briefly discussed how some communities, like Charleston, SC, have been working to balance the desirability they have created and the affordability of the area to allow current, long term residents, to remain part of the tapestry of the community.
Jill Schennum, PhD, Chair, Dept. of Sociology, Anthropology and Economics, County College of Morris (NJ) made a presentation entitled “Why Preserve Bethlehem’s SouthSide: The Communities and the Mills.” Jill, who is a cultural anthropologist, reviewed her 10-year research effort with the United Steelworkers in South Bethlehem. She briefly reviewed the history of the south side including the various waves of immigrants who relocated to the south side, the importance of the steel plant and the various people who worked there. She emphasized historic preservation must also include accurate historic interpretation and noted that there is often pressure to eliminate or sanitize historic interpretations.
As part of the conference Erin Hammerstedt reviewed the purpose of Preservation Pennsylvania and encouraged everyone to look at their new website (preservationpa.org) and to sign up for their electronic newsletter which is great for networking. – Dorothy Stephenson & Barbara Diamond
Please note that this article has been shortened for publishing purposes.
Photos courtesy of Scott Hawk.