Preservationists reading the cultural landscape

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What was originally the tallest building on Public Square?  What is NOW the tallest building on Public Square?  What does that suggest about the changing function of Public Square and the changing values of the community?

By Karl Brunjes, M.A. Candidate, Historic Preservation

For those of us who are interested in Historical Preservation, old things seem to catch our attention. Almost always it is a structure of some type. As a student, we are taught to look beyond just the structure or the area in which it is located. We need to see the structure in its environment and then break it down into parts. “Reading the cultural landscape” helps with understanding the nature of cities and neighborhoods and the changes that have occurred through the passage of time and the effects on the people that live there.

With the detailed architecture of the older buildings, they stand out from modern design. In some cases, you can see decades of architecture from building to building as you walk along city streets. Now you have your sense of place. Now that you know where you are, today’s technology will allow you to take the next step: A sense of time.

Have you ever found yourself looking at a building and wondering what it looked like when it was built? Have you looked at a property with new condominiums or apartments and wondered what was there first? Today, we all carry miniature computers with us wherever we go. Our phones, tablets, and laptops join us on the daily journey to the store or when we go away on vacation. When we come across a place of historical significance, we have the ability to pull photos from the internet and send ourselves back in time to when the built landscape was much different.

We can hold these pictures and make the connection with the remaining landmarks. What’s changed? What clientele were shops catering to? What’s better? What’s worse? Do the older structures still stand out then as they do now? Look at all of the details: the cars, the signage, and the people. Stop for a minute and visit the past just by using your phone.

Before your next trip on your everyday routine, take a minute, explore the internet, and find a photo or two to print and take them with you. Allow yourself some time to see the landscape for what it was then and what it is now. See how the preservation of the older buildings builds the foundation of the character of the community. Think about how the community has adapted to their foundations and what they mean to the future of the neighborhood.

About Bari Oyler Stith, Ph.D.

Director, Historic Preservation Program, Ursuline College

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