Melanie A. Markowicz, Guest Blogger
The first beginnings of summer show in May flowers and a return to a sea of green across the State. It is also the time for the Annual Michigan Historic Preservation Network Conference, where historic preservation and urban planning professionals gather to learn and share best practices in the field. This year, the Conference was held in Detroit for the first time in fifteen years – and my, how the City has changed since then. A reflection of that was this year’s theme, “Resolve, Revolve, Evolve.” The exploration of Detroit’s landscape provided inspiration to all Conference participants, and together, we focused on creative solutions and new approaches to bringing historic preservation to the fore of community planning, engagement and research.
The Conference always provides a great opportunity to catch up with old colleagues, and to meet new people doing great work in the State of Michigan. This year was a bit different, however. Conference sessions focused not only on preservation incentives and applied practice, but also stressed the importance of heritage resources in the everyday lives of Michigan residents, and how we might best utilize them to strengthen and improve our communities and our connections to one another. The opening panel discussion was a great opportunity to hear from leaders in Detroit and beyond, and to learn about the progress being made by the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department under the new leadership of Director Maurice Cox.
Furthermore, the Keynote Address from Tom Mayes, Vice President and Senior Counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, provided further inspiration as he shared his experiences in Rome, pinpointing the importance of historic preservation through his work “Why Do Old Places Matter?” The underlying message was of the true nature of our field – that historic preservation is about people, and that architecture is a living part of our community life. Heritage resources help to tell our shared story, define our identity, and orient our future through memory, pride, and emotional bonds. These narratives have something very important to offer in the stabilization of our neighborhoods. We discussed blight, deconstruction, urban archaeology, ethnographic approaches, form-based codes, vernacular landscapes, social networking, materials conservation, and the creative rehabilitation and interpretation of socially significant sites, among many others.
Likewise, Conference tours celebrated and explored some of Michigan’s most acclaimed architecture and public history. It is tremendous that MHPN provides unparalleled access to sites that are rarely, if ever, open to the public. Thanks to numerous volunteers, professionals, and organizations, including Preservation Detroit, we were able to visit numerous sites and neighborhoods, from Modernist masterpieces to beacons of industrial ingenuity to places of faith and worship.
Among all the wonderful insights that were shared and learned, the magnitude of what we do as historic preservationists was meaningfully felt. The biggest recent reminder is the efforts by concerned citizens, organizations, and municipalities across the State of Michigan in helping to indefinitely suspend House Bill 5232 and proposed changes to 1970 Public Act 169 Local Historic Districts Act. Local historic districts help to preserve our shared heritage, distinctive communities and architecture, help raise and maintain property values, protect homeowner’s investments, keep our neighborhoods more environmentally sustainable, are magnets for tourism, and simply feel good to be in. This legislation put that in grave danger. While it is suspended for the moment, we must remain vigilant in our efforts and continue to be passionate about community engagement and education. The MHPN Conference celebrated this win for preservation in our state and we should all celebrate the meaningful role that historic preservation plays in our lives.
Melanie A. Markowicz, recipient of the Sylvia and Dave Tillman Scholarship, was one of the 12 scholarship recipients at the MHPN 36th Annual Historic Preservation Conference, held May 11-14, 2016, at the McGregor Conference Center, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan. To learn more about the conference – and how to become a 2017 conference scholarship recipient, please visit http://www.mhpn.org/?page_id=154.
Photos of McGregor Reflecting Pool, First Congregational Church, and All-Conference Panel courtesy of MHPN Board Member Emeritus, Amanda D. Davis of Amanda D. Davis Photography.
Photo of Great Michigan Road Trip, courtesy of Larry Barber.