July 3, 2017
These days even folks who consider themselves luddites may very well have an e-mail address. That’s why it’s important to consider where online all the data and information we use on a daily basis is stored, who owns, and perhaps most important, who can access. Fortunately we are joined this week by Eli Pousson of Baltimore Heritage who is eager to share with us more about the open source movement and why he believes it may be invaluable for historic preservation. This is PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] We do our part here at Preservation Maryland, but there’s always new and exciting ways to connect people to historic preservation in their own community. This week I sat down with Eli Pousson, the Director of Preservation & Outreach for Baltimore Heritage, to learn more about how Eli is employing new technology to expand the community of local history. Eli believes that by embracing the open source movement, preservationists cannot only learn from other activists around the world but make preservation and historic resources more accessible to communities than ever before. This is PreserveCast.
From Preservation Maryland Studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore this is PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. Today we’re joined by Eli Pousson, the Director of Preservation & Outreach for Baltimore Heritage, Baltimore, Maryland’s largest and most effective preservation advocacy organization. It’s good to have you here today, Eli, to talk about all things preservation school, digital advocacy, and open source data. I’m sure important things to preservation but perhaps things that preservationists don’t always think about.
[Eli Pousson] Yeah, thanks for having me.
[NR] So we normally start these interviews by just getting to know the person we’re interviewing a little bit better, particularly just understanding how you made your way to the field of preservation. So where does Eli’s story begin?
[EP] Sure. Well, I think then we’ll talk more, I hope, about the many people who don’t really label themselves as preservationists but love old buildings and sort of want to see them stick around. And I think that I might call myself an itinerant preservationist or someone who sort of, like, floated into the field from outside. Because I actually went to school for industrial design, product design, and then went to grad school.
I grew up here in Maryland, moved away to Pittsburgh, and then came back to go to College Park for applied anthropology. And it was there that I met a bunch of archaeologists. I met people who were using oral history, people who were thinking about cultural landscapes and historic places in ways that I just didn’t know were possible. That we could pay attention to everyday kinds of places instead of just fancy old house museums. From there I, actually, worked for about nine months at the D.C. Historic Preservation Office. When I was working there I always was telling them, “This feels like preservation finishing school.” Because you just sort of come out of school and you learn about things in this ideal world, and then you encounter the reality of it and you’re like, “Oh, this is complicated, and challenging, and intellectually fascinating, but also sort of has a bunch of complicated day-to-day parts.” And I think the experience working in D.C. really helped me get my job at Baltimore Heritage where I’ve been for over seven years now. First, as a field officer and now as the Director of Preservation & Outreach.
[NR] So at Baltimore Heritage, I know that your position takes in a lot of different directions. How would you describe what it is that you do at Baltimore Heritage?
[EP] It’s a little tricky to describe what I do, but –
[NR] Right, I’m asking because I, actually, don’t – I don’t understand it [laughter].
[EP] I have a friend who I think one of the first times we got lunch together she was like, “You must have the best job in the world because you just must sit around and read and write about old buildings all day. That’s like what you do.” And I’m like, “Well…” because I help maintain our membership database, our website, our email systems, I answer correspondence, put together grant budgets, write grant applications, file reports, do web analytics, do social media, go out and take photos of old buildings, go to community meetings. We’re a two person non-profit, two full-time employees with two additional folks who work on our tourist program and admin and then a bunch of great volunteers including our board who support the organization. My colleague Johns and I, we’re not alone but there’s always a lot to do for both of us.
[NR] So one of the things that you have been working on and sort of a specific project has been this Local Preservation School. So for someone who knows nothing about it, what is it? How did you get the funding together? Who’s supporting this? And what does it all mean and how can people learn about it?
[EP] So Local Preservation School really grew out of our experience with this kind of hodgepodge of work that we end up doing at Baltimore Heritage and because we’re small we always had to ask for help. We ask for help from volunteers, we ask for help with partners, we engage in collaborations, we’re sort of seeking information about different buildings. And a lot of times what we discovered was that people wanted to help but they weren’t always sure how. And so we would teach people how to be tour guides. We would teach people how to digitize historic photographs. And all of a sudden we realized that education was an increasingly important part of our mission.
And so the opportunity came up, the National Park Service approached us and had this idea that they wanted us to develop an online course about historic preservation for a general audience and we came back and said we want to do this but we want to do it a little bit differently. Rather than just teaching an online course with sort of webinars and a series of readings or videos, we said instead we want to create something called an open educational resource where we’re making educational materials available online for free. And the audience that we had in mind were the organizations like ours that work with volunteers whether they’re board members, tour guides, commission members because there’s plenty of small organizations that are in local government or state government programs as well as non-profits. And really what we saw is that we could work with this mix of partners, of committed volunteers, and non-profits in order to develop the kinds of resources that we knew we needed and we suspected that others needed as well. That sort of laid out some tips and tricks and tutorials and guides to how you do preservation and advocacy in the present day. And –
[NR] So it’s focused on advocacy. Is that where the – ?
[EP] So I think that advocacy sometimes gets sort of stuck in this box of advocacy “looks like this.” Advocacy looks like chaining yourself to an old building or writing an angry letter to the editor. And I think that we’re –
[NR] Both of which I’ve done today already.
[EP] Oh really [laughter]? It’s not that late in the day yet. Maybe you’ve got two –
[NR] Yeah, I’ve already chained myself.
[EP] Exactly [laughter]. So I think that it is all about advocacy but rather than us being in the role, Baltimore Heritage or us as the preservation movement being in the role of saying, “These are the goals you need to fight for.” What we really wanted to make the Local Preservation School about is how do we make it possible for people to figure out what places they do want to fight for and figure out the way that they want to fight for them? And then provide them with the knowledge, and tools, and skills that they need to win those fights.
[NR] So could you walk us through an example of one of these courses? Could you take us through what’s there and then when you say it’s open source and it’s sort of available for everyone, what does that actually mean?
[EP] Yeah, no, great questions. So let me start with just, I guess, one example. So the first course that we developed… I should mention as well this project is funded not just by the National Park Service but also by the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers and their financial support was really key to making this project possible. And the sort of open aspect of it – the open part of the open educational resources is really essential because not only is it free, but we’re also using what’s called an open license, most popularly known for Creative Commons licenses. And what is exciting about the open licensing is that people can not only use these resources to teach and to learn. They can also change them. They can remix them. They can modify them to suit their own needs. And so, one of the examples of what this looks like is a project that we’re continuing to work on called Explore Baltimore Heritage 101.
So for years at Baltimore Heritage, I have helped to publish a website called Explore Baltimore Heritage where we’ve invited people to submit short essays about historic places, buildings, churches, neighborhoods, public art. And what we’ve realized is the skills of writing a short, exciting story about an old building can be kind of tricky. So we began to realize that it’s important not just to invite people to write a story for this project to feature a story of a historic place. It’s important to actually help them do that, to help them give their ideas and their story a voice. And so, Explore Baltimore Heritage 101 is a project where we developed a free, four-week long community course that was designed to teach people how to research, write, create visuals, and do outreach around historic places.
[NR] So they take this course online. It’s sort of self-directed?
[EP] So, we initially decided to do it as creating online resources but actually teaching it in person. So it gave us this chance to actually engage with people directly around the – you know, to receive that immediate feedback. Of me, every week, showing up to a room full of 25 neighbors and saying, “So here’s what we’re going to talk about. How are you going to use this? What is this going to mean for our community when you know how to research, and you know how to write about these places?” And then, at the same time, because all of those educational resources are available online and open for comments, we made those available to anyone and everyone so that it wasn’t just you had to show up at the class on Tuesday evening in order to learn about this class, but that you’re actually able to access all of the same information that the students are accessing but accessing it online.
[NR] From a non-profit perspective, how many people came and were they people that you already knew or were they new people?
[EP] They were definitely new people.
[EP] I mean, we had a woman who’s a lawyer who works for the state and she started as a volunteer with a community-led archaeology project that we helped to start the Herring Run Archaeology Project in northeast Baltimore. But because she was already connected to us with that, when we put out this opportunity to take a course, she realized, “I love local history. I want to do more of this. I want to do it in a hands-on way and do it myself.” And so, she was researching a historic cemetery in her own neighborhood and trying to learn more about it. And out of that, actually, helped to get a tour organized where a bunch of her neighbors got together and took a walk around the cemetery to learn about its history. And so, someone who had never before been a member of Baltimore Heritage, never participated in any traditional advocacy campaign, perhaps, but she through her efforts is fostering a greater appreciation, both for herself and for her neighbors of these hidden away, historic places in her own community. So I think that if we, by putting everything online, by making it all open, by giving up this measure of control, we’re saying, “We want you to be the preservationist that you want to be rather than us saying you have to be a preservationist that looks like us and does what we do.”
[EP] It’s a bit of a non-traditional project, I’ll sort of say that upfront. We have a website is LocalPreservation.github.io. And so one of the ways that this all works is that it actually – all of the content for our courses and lessons and other educational materials lives online primarily through GitHub, which is a platform primarily used by developers, web developers, programmers in order to share and collaborate on code.
Even though this is most popular and best known for people who are programmers, it’s not just limited to sharing code, but you can really share anything. Like images or texts, those things that make up most of our sort of courses and tutorials. And so what it creates is a record of all the changes that are made. Anyone can make a copy of the entire website and modify bits and pieces of it and it ensures that it’s going to be – even if we’re long gone, it’ll still be there for someone to access. What the project ended up looking like then is rather than just a single course, this is Explore Baltimore Heritage 101, we partnered with different organizations around the country in order to create modules and short courses based on existing resources. And then we also put together a big database of primarily openly licensed, but a bunch of resources that if you aren’t already familiar with preservation or cultural heritage you might not be aware exists and that’s at LocalPreservation.github.io/Resources.
And we’ve got dozens and dozens of just these amazing resources that we’re always referring people to and we want to make sure that they’ve got that visibility because you can learn so much from them. Things like the Building Technology Heritage Library, which is hosted on the Internet archive. Things like – there’s an openly licensed guide to sort of creative non-violent activism where people are using techniques like glitter bombing elected officials, for example, in order to highlight their opposition to LGBTQ rights. I mean, how can we as people who care about historic places associated with all kinds of people, including places connected to LGBTQ heritage, how can we learn from the activist strategies that are being used in other kinds of social movements? And I think that was really one of the ideas behind the project, was how do we get our knowledge as preservationists and put it online and accessible where we can talk about it and learn from it? But it was also about taking a step back and saying, “What other knowledge is already out there? We don’t need to create this school from scratch. We can learn from the amazing resources that already exist and make those accessible to people who want to get involved with preservation.”
[NR] Yeah. I think that’s an interesting point, particularly about the open source information that’s out there. And I think that that’s something maybe we should take up after we take a quick break. Now that we’ve had our first reference to a glitter bomb on the podcast [laughter], I think it’s time for us to take a quick break. And then when we come back, let’s talk a little bit more about open source information and why that matters in the preservation community and perhaps what you can find out there. We’ll be right back here on PreserveCast.
And now it’s for our Preservation Explanation
[Stephen Israel] Happy 4th of July everybody! We’re going to keep things brief because I’ve got some big news to share later on. But first, some holiday history. July 4th or Independence Day is a national holiday in the United States to commemorate the day the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Across the country, people gather to celebrate and since 1938 federal employees get paid time off.
Some things about the Fourth seem to be set-in-stone traditions. For example, there were fireworks in the first official anniversary celebration of independence in Philadelphia in 1777. But some things we take for granted about July 4th were not always definite. For one thing, although John Adams correctly predicted that independence would be celebrated with parades and festivities for years to come, he thought it would be on July 2nd, the day the motion for independence was actually passed by the Congress; as opposed to July 4th the date the document was signed after some debates about the language. That’s just a date so it wouldn’t have made a huge difference. But there are some traditions from the eighteenth century that could have changed how we celebrate independence completely.
Following the announcement of independence in 1776 people threw mock funerals for King George as opposed to in the pre-Revolutionary days when the King’s birthday was a prominent holiday throughout the colonies. I’m all right having missed out on that one. It seems a little spooky to me. However you celebrate, hopefully, you can find some time amid the chaos of the family cookout this July 4th to reflect on the history behind the celebration. And if you find yourself wanting to reflect on a little more history, well, remember how I said I had news earlier?
On July 12th you can ascend the summit with Preservation Maryland. The Old Line State Summit is Maryland’s annual historic preservation conference. This year we’re meeting on Wednesday, July 12th at the U.S. Naval Academy for a full day of training and talks on some of the most pertinent issues in preservation including how to be a strong advocate for revitalizations, documenting and interpreting LGBTQ history, and responding to natural disasters like the Ellicott City flood, and much, much more. Plus, Nick and I will be there for a special live recording of PreserveCast. If you’re ready for your preservation project or organization’s 15 minutes of fame – actually probably around 2 or 3 minutes – make sure to join PreserveCast at the Old Line State Summit to potentially be featured in a future episode. You’ll be able to sign up on-site for a special live recording to share about your experience with preservation and go back and forth with Nick Redding. If you’re interested in joining us for the Summit, either because of the podcasting, the wonderful talks and sessions, or just to get a better idea of historic preservation here in your state, you can find out more and register online at OldLineState.org. Now let’s get back to PreserveCast.
[NR] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. I’m joined today by Eli Pousson who is the Director of Preservation and Outreach for Baltimore Heritage. We’ve been talking about the Local Preservation School, why this kind of community education is important to preservationists. Before the break, we were talking about open source data, why that matters to preservationists, how the Local Preservation School actually has a whole collection of resources to tap into whether that be about other types of activism and the techniques and tools that have been used for that to built environment libraries. But there are things beyond that that we should know about when it comes to open source data and it seems like you are always posting information about open source. What should preservationists know about it? How do you manipulate it? Where do you go for it? How would you get involved in it if you knew nothing about open source data?
[EP] Oh, that’s a great question. I guess I would say that open data is one part of the broader open source movement and I think it’s one that has a lot of exciting opportunities for people who care about old buildings because many preservationists are nothing if not list makers. We like writing down, “Here are the names and addresses of all the buildings that we care about.” If you share that information online and you give it what’s called an open license – a sort of creative commons license or put it in the public domain – all of a sudden you are engaged in the open data movement. You have shared an open resource.
I think one of the things that really attracts me to the open source movement more broadly, which of course includes people who are publishing open source programs such as the Android operating system, or most of the Chrome browser, or WordPress, which runs I think both your website and my website. All of those are open source software and open educational resources sort of fit into that same vein where with – the reason that we are making the Local Preservation School open is because open educational resources reduce barriers to access because they’re free. They insure that educators who are actually using these resources have the rights to keep these resources, to reuse them, to revise them to remix them into their own presentations or materials and to redistribute them without ever needing to ask us for permission.
[NR] Well, let me ask you about that though because obviously, I think Baltimore Heritage – and I’m not sure if this is even purposeful – but you guys really are sort of at the progressive end of pushing the boundaries of access to data and particularly as it pertains to preservation and I think that’s phenomenal. We’re glad that we can say you’re here in Maryland. It’s good to have you here so close and to be able to have these conversations, but for someone listening to this who gets scared about the idea of losing control of the narrative. I think that for a lot of people it’s scary to think that, “Oh, my God, I’m going to spend all this time putting all this data together and this whole narrative and this whole class and then someone’s going to take it, and, what if they do something terrible with it?” What do you say to that? What is the answer to that?
[EP] I think it’s a really important question, and I think there’s especially some areas we are dealing, for example, with Native American cultural heritage. Where these questions, patrimony or ownership or control over data, sort of the location of archaeological resources, [is] another one that can be a very sensitive topic because of the risk of damage if those resources are looted. But at the same time I think by feeling… By keeping our secrets, holding information or controlling that information by thinking that that makes us more powerful or more able to sort of drive the ship, I think it just actually makes us more marginalized and less relevant because we say that we aren’t ready to participate in this sort of big exchange of ideas, this sort of democratic back and forth where you get to see everything that we see when we’re sort of deciding that we want to fight for a building.
If you had an engineering report on a building that showed that it had serious structural issues, that might be concerning, that might be worrying, but you would want people to know what is going on with that building, and then fight for it anyway. I think the other really key piece of this is that the preservation movement overall rests on this idea that there is these public values, these public resources that we want everyone to care about together, that we think that they have value to, if not everybody, certainly enough people that it’s worth keeping them around. And this isn’t even a new idea because if you go back say to the 1966 publication with With Heritage So Rich, preservation classic. I mean, probably only the serious preservation nerds listening to this podcast will actually have seen this, but I’ll quote, “The past is not the property of historians. It is a public possession. It belongs to anyone who’s aware of it and it grows by being shared.” This is what it’s about. The Local Preservation School is a way of taking our knowledge as preservationists, giving it back to the public in a way that they can access it and use it and encouraging them to share it with one another and share how they’re using it with us so that we can continue to sustain and improve these educational resources to help preservationists so all over the country really.
[NR] Yeah. Well, I think if you can use a quote from [With] Heritage So Rich to back up something, maybe it’s not as wild an idea as we think [crosstalk].
[EP] That’s exactly –
[NR] Fifty-year-old text.
[EP] Exactly. That’s exactly my pitch because I think that many preservationists today we consider ourselves maybe a bunch of Luddites. You know, people who are scared of technology, but it really isn’t so in the past, and even I would argue, in the present. Because back in the 1960s when you had groups like Baltimore Heritage getting organized, for example, we were using the latest in sort of mimeograph technology. We were fighting against the most urgent and pressing issues of our day around urban renewal and highway fights, and so we were very much at the center of some of these public debates, and I think that as the cities and people around the country today are very concerned about issues around climate change or equity and development or the respect for people regardless of their sexual orientation, their identity, their national origin, their immigration status. Those are issues that preservation should be engaged with. Those are issues that are preservation issues, and that it another part of this, is that really, by sort of providing these tools in a way that allows other people to set their own agenda, we can say that the preservation movement is bigger than just people who are fighting for the proper paint colors on the front door or the elegantly finished cornice. That’s not the limits of the preservation movement.
[EP] Yeah, and I think that Preservation Maryland has been beginning to make that argument as well here where preservation we say, “It’s not just about the big fancy homes and historic house museums, but it’s really about building the kind of community that we think Marylanders deserve and that Marylanders want.” And that just happens to be a livable, walking, human-scaled community and just so happens that our history communities oftentimes fit that bill. But, yeah, I think you’re right. I think if can put preservation at the center of other issues that are of importance and are being debated, that’s a good place to be. That we can’t just stand on the sidelines and say, “Oh, well, we’re just worried about the eighteenth century manor house,” which, we’re worried about that, too, but there a number of issues for us to be concerned about.
[EP] I think it’s important for us, though, to remember that the eighteenth-century manor house is threatened by suburban development that places the people who might live there increasingly dependent on automobiles that burn fossil fuels and put carbon dioxide into our warming atmosphere. I mean, there’s no reason not to see the preservation of rural and suburban open space as just as much a important issue that affects people in cities like Baltimore as well as, for example, rural communities all over the Chesapeake Bay where climate change should be seen as one of the most urgent threats that historic places face.
[NR] So let me ask you this, I mean, we’ve been talking a lot about how this data, in theory, should create this sort of informed, excited populous that’s going to be able to rise up and care about these issues and see how there’s value to preservation concerns that perhaps are at the core of, or parallel to, other issues that matter to them, equitable development and all the other issues that you’ve brought up. But does a digital resource that kind of lives out there in the digital world, it’s very easy for that to become sort of the material for what we call, or I call, the keyboard campaigner. Like the person who gets fired up and puts up and angry post and then that’s kind of it. How do you make the jump – and do you see this happening – the jump from the digital world to the actual on-the-ground advocacy? That seems like one of the most difficult things for advocacy organizations to do is to get people to go from listening to the podcast about this and being fired up to actually going and meeting with a legislator or whatever that might be. What’s your experience been with that? Have you seen any results of that from the preservation school or beyond?
[EP] We’ve definitely seen this approach translating into people doing things in the real world in ways that are predictable and interesting and also completely unexpected and surprising.
[NR] So give us the surprising. I mean, we can probably can come up with the predictable and expected.
[EP] So here’s one surprise. Our commitment to this open-source approach, caused us at Baltimore Heritage to begin reflecting, “What have we got that we can put online and make open and available?” And we realized we had a ton of tour notes sitting around. We do walking tours. We do bike tours. We do building tours, and they’re kind of rough around the edges, you know.
[NR] They’re notes.
[EP] They’re notes. Exactly. It’s a work-in-progress. But we realized, “Hey, let’s just put them online, and we’ll tell folks, ‘If you see any problems with these notes, let us know, and we’ll try to fix them. And if they’re useful to you, please use them.” And so, immediately I began sending them – we’d sometimes get requests from college classes – and we’ll say, “We’re not available on that date but if you want to do a DIY tour, here are all the notes that I would’ve used if you’d actually gotten me to show up.”
But then, a couple weeks ago, I got a phone call from a teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts. It’s right over by Mount Vernon Place. And she shared that her students, just a few months after I first shared our tour notes online, which is in late 2015. So, early 2016 her students had been researching for a project that she and they had been working on that they called Guerrilla Public History, where they were posting historic markers on different buildings around Mount Vernon Place to try to highlight some of the unsung stories behind them. One of the things that they found was tour notes that we had developed on the history of slavery and emancipation around Mount Vernon Place and they decided to put a printed out handmade plaque on the front of the Hackerman House, which is owned by the Walters Art Museum, to tell the story of Sybby Grant, who is an enslaved woman who was held in slavery by the owner of that house back before the Civil War and worked there as a cook. And so we had turned up a few details about her life including a letter that she had written to the owner of the house, the slaveholder, when he was imprisoned at Fort McHenry. We turned up a recipe that she had contributed to the household’s cookbook at an archive down in Virginia. We had these in our notes online. So when these students put up this plaque, it just so happened this was the same day as the Walters Art Museum board meeting, and the board members are arriving to see this plaque highlighting the history of slavery at their own museum.
[NR] Right. And they were beginning to rehab this or were on the cusp of that, right?
[EP] I think they were on the cusp of the rehab. And so this is what’s so exciting, is that the leadership of the Walters Art Museum responded to this constructively and they said, “Let’s talk to these students. Let’s talk to these teachers. Let’s learn more about Sybby Grant.” And then they went out and they actually acquired the letter that Sybby Grant had written back at the start of the Civil War, and made it part of the Walters Art Museum permanent collection, and committed themselves to tell the story of Sybby Grant and other people who were held in slavery around Mount Vernon Place as part of the reinterpretation of the Hackerman House.
What blows my mind about this story: I didn’t find out about it until all this had already happened. I got a call, “Just F.Y.I., we found your tour notes.” And it was a link in the chain that has continued to build to this really exciting initiative that the School for the Arts and the Walters Art Museum are working on. Aspects of that might have happened without us, but it’s amazing the way putting material online and making it open and encouraging people to read this, use this. It might not be perfect, but it’s what we have to share with you.
[NR] Yeah. If you haven’t already committed that to a case study for the value of open sourcing information, that pretty much – I think that we could’ve –
[EP] It’s a cool story. [laughter]
[NR] – started this podcast with that one and kind of led into – because, I mean, it also makes the argument for why – that question I asked earlier about people who are concerned about losing the narrative. For every potential narrative that you lose, if you have one of these – was it Sybby Grant?
[NR] If you have this one Sybby Grant story for every narrative that you potentially lose, who cares? Because that one example is so powerful that you’d rather have one of those for ten times if you potentially lost the narrative in a negative way and who knows if you really do. I mean, I think that there’s a little bit of just hand-wringing and needless worrying about this idea that somehow you’re handing over your data. Obviously, there’s some pretty profound things that can happen when you do that.
[EP] Sure. I think one of the other things, it’s totally important to recognize and to stay aware that democracy is a messy thing. Access to digital resources is not something that all people share equally for a variety of reasons. And so, just because we’re putting something online doesn’t mean that we’re making it accessible to everyone. And so I think another project that we’ve been working on called Vacant Buildings 101, which is a workshop, an online resource that Baltimore Heritage has developed in collaboration with the Community Law Center. Now our intent behind this project was to talk to neighborhood residents, especially people who are trying to be advocates for their neighborhood – and I should mention funded by a Heritage Fund grant from you all here at Preservation Maryland, thank you very much – but with that project, we adopted the same open source approach. We took all of the material that we are developing for the workshop, made it available online, shared it with all of our partners, and asked for feedback before the workshop even began. When we were doing the workshops, we were able to tell folks, “Everything we’re telling you is available online so if you miss anything you can always go back and get it.”
[EP] But we immediately began to have people asking questions and making suggestions in the workshop that we are incorporating into this resource that we’re building. So all of a sudden, the resources that we’re building around Vacant Buildings 101 are not just resources created by Baltimore Heritage or the Community Law Center, they’re resources created by a variety of members of our whole community; and they’re resources that are created to take action. So for example, one of the resources that we’ve made – I think I might have brought a couple copies actually, if I didn’t I will get you a copy – is a card on how to report code violations with 311. And hear me out because there’s probably a number of both preservationists and non-preservationists who are listening at this who are going, “Code violations? What is this guy talking about? This is not preservation. Get back to the cornices. Get back to the cool history before the Civil War.”
But code violations, the whole housing code and code enforcement, it’s an essential part of what keeps buildings standing up or falling down. And if we want to jump up and down and express our concern when we feel like vacant buildings are being torn down without an appropriate process or without necessity, and maybe sometimes they are, maybe sometimes they’re not. But if we are not trying to get out in front of those issues and make sure that we are empowering people in Baltimore neighborhoods to fight for the reuse of vacant buildings, then shame on us because that’s where it starts. It starts with someone who can’t stay in their home because the roof is leaking, they move out, the building’s abandoned. All of a sudden the house next door is abandoned because they’re having water infiltration from the house next door. And all of a sudden this block that was a place where people live, part of a neighborhood, is all of a sudden considered an eyesore or blight. Something where the buildings are a problem rather than the buildings being part of a solution. And so we see this back-and-forth between working with people to take action in their communities, learning from what we’re doing by working together, and then sharing that knowledge back with people who want to join us as part of that movement to fight for historic neighborhoods and fight for the reuse of historic buildings. I see those two things as going hand-in-hand all the time.
[NR] Well, I think that’s great and I think we could probably spend an entire other podcast going into even more issues on all of this, and then hopefully we can have you back in the future. But to end this podcast on perhaps a slightly lighter note than vacancy and the dissolution of the urban fabric of Baltimore, how about the question which we ask everyone who comes through, which is what is your favorite historic building?
[EP] So I was thinking about this on the bike ride up here because, and I was thinking that I wanted to just reject the premise. I wanted to just say, “Bad question, not going to answer it.” And the reason that I say that, it’s not a bad question. I think that we’re always trying to set priorities. We’re always trying to figure out what’s most important to us. If we can’t save every building in Baltimore because we just don’t have the money, we don’t have the time, we don’t care about them all in the same way. There are buildings that are more beloved than others. But many of the buildings are beloved by someone, and those people who love all these different buildings, those are my neighbors and I care about them. I don’t think I can pick a favorite because –
[NR] But we’re not asking your neighbors, we’re asking you. [laughter]
[NR] And we love you for it.
[EP] – where important people lived and we fight for houses where maybe you have never heard of the person who lived there, but we’re going to fight for it anyway! I feel like over the last seven years, I’ve developed this feeling that I feel like I love all the buildings in Baltimore in their way. I think one of the places that I love a lot, and I hope everyone appreciates it as much as I do and as much as many, many other people do while it is still here in its current form is Lexington Market. Because I think your listeners may or may not know but Lexington Market here in Baltimore, Maryland, is a historic public market building that the building itself dates from the mid-twentieth century but as an institution, it goes all the way back to the early nineteenth century. It has been a place where people have purchased food and drinks, and come together to sort of make money and spend money and see one another and spend time together and talk to each other for centuries. And it is a place that is rich with meaning and countless stories. A podcast could be devoted just to the sort of fascinating stories at Lexington Market. And now, there’s a proposal to demolish the existing building and build a new structure that will be a new home for many, but perhaps not all of the merchants who are now in Lexington Market. And no matter what, the market will be a different place, and it will be the end of one place that was Lexington Market and a start of a new place that is also Lexington Market. And I think that there’s an opportunity here for us all to come together and learn about Lexington Market and appreciate Lexington Market and think about Lexington Market while the Market as it is right now is still here to appreciate.
[NR] A beautiful answer. Excellent way to end and see, it wasn’t that hard.
[EP] Yeah, there you go [laughter].
[NR] Well, we really appreciate having you here, appreciate all of the things that you’re doing particularly for getting information out and, obviously, creating opportunities for really good action and advocacy on the part of people here in Baltimore City. And because of your work here, perhaps, and hopefully people around the country using Local Preservation School. So if people want to get in touch with you or find out more about Local Preservation School, Baltimore Heritage, how do they do it?
[EP] Folks can find me on Twitter @elipousson E-L-I-P-O-U-S-S-O-N. I’m the same on Instagram. If you go to BaltimoreHeritage.org, you can find about all the different projects that we’re doing. If you’re interested in more information about the Local Preservation School, check out our website, LocalPreservation.github.io, or check out the #localpast on either Twitter or Instagram and share your own sort of ideas and feedback about what we’re doing. We’d love for the listeners of PreserveCast to be a part of the Local Preservation School.
[NR] Awesome. Great. Well, we look forward to having you back in the future.
[EP] Thank you.
This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Milestones Heritage Area and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
This week’s episode was produced and engineered by Stephen Israel. Our executive producer is Aaron Marcavitch. Our theme music is performed by the band Pretty Gritty. You can learn more about them at their website: PrettyGrittyMusic.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @PG_PrettyGritty.
To learn about Preservation Maryland or this week’s guests, visit: PreservationMaryland.org. While there, you can check out our blog and learn about what’s current in historic preservation. We’re also on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter @PreservationMD. And of course, a very special thank you to our listeners. Keep preserving!