Bard Birthday Breakfast Benefit 2012
December 19, 2012
Over 100 ardent supporters of the Archive Project gathered at the Manhattan Penthouse to celebrate the ninth annual Bard Birthday Breakfast Benefit. Hosted in honor of Albert S. Bard’s birthday (last year would have been his 146th), this benefit lecture has become the “unofficial holiday party” of the New York City preservation field. Much of Bard’s professional life was dedicated to finding a way to protect the aesthetic values of special places. He drafted the New York State authorizing legislation for the Landmarks Law (known as the Bard Act) and was a leading national advocate for City Beautiful concerns ranging from billboard control to zoning.
Ed McMahon, the featured speaker at the benefit, follows in Bard’s tradition by nationally advancing the case for the protection of the character of place. McMahon spent 14 years as vice president and director of land use planning for the Conservation Fund, where he helped protect more than five million acres of land. He is also the co-founder and former president of Scenic America, and is the author or co-author of 15 books and over 200 articles on such topics as better models for development, connecting landscape and communities, and preserving character of place.
In his compelling benefit lecture entitled The Power and Profit of Place: The Economics of Aesthetics, McMahon addressed the economic advantages of community distinctiveness. Around the world, he said, cities are seeking the formula for economic success in a rapidly changing marketplace. McMahon argues that a critical but often overlooked part of this formula is community distinctiveness. According to McMahon in his article The Place Making Dividend, community distinctiveness, also termed “sense of place,” is a “unique collection of qualities and characteristics–visual, cultural, social, and environmental–that provide meaning to a location.” Sense of place helps us differentiate one location from another, and it is what makes these locations worth caring about.
However, as McMahon illustrated in his slideshow, these distinctive qualities are quickly vanishing in the United States. Building materials, architectural styles, advertising, and other characteristics have devolved from unique to uniform. As a place becomes more standardized fewer people care about it, and there is less incentive for tourism or economic development. But while change is inevitable, the degradation of a community’s character and identity is not. McMahon gave the audience tips on how to create places that retain character while embracing change and providing appeal-driven economic prosperity, or a “place making dividend.” This “place making dividend” means that people will stay longer, spend more money, and return more often to places that appeal to them. Historic preservation and ecological conservation ordinances understand and respect a location’s natural context, and are therefore invaluable in nurturing a “place making dividend.” But new, memorable communities can also be planned that create a special feeling of belonging and inspire stewardship by their residents. McMahon calls this “heart and soul planning,” in which communities adapt to change while maintaining or enhancing the things they value most. Whether starting from scratch or incorporating existing fabric, community distinctiveness is instrumental in 21st century economic development and competitive advantage.
The Archive Project thanks Ed McMahon and the many supporters who helped to make this year’s benefit a success. Proceeds from this event help to fund the Archive Project’s operations.
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