Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Main Street Day Three: Dynamics

This week’s National Main Streets Conference is designed for staff and volunteers who work daily within the program’s framework, so Hunter, Meyer & Myers, all of whom were present Tuesday, are sort of like tourists observing the faith and culture of a native population. Tuesday's day-opening general session offered some insights into group dynamics.

The program, a panel discussion, was entitled “A Four Point Approach to Economic Development,” a topic already covered during opening sessions on Sunday. Discussion Tuesday was focused on exploring the idea that all four “points” need to be more evenly focused on economic development without sacrificing the emphasis on preservation.

Main Street’s stated mission is to foster economic development within the context of historic preservation. The four points of the program’s incremental strategy, each represented by a management committee within Main Street communities, are design (traditionally most heavily involved in preservation), organization, promotion and economic restructuring (traditionally most heavily involved in the nuts and bolts of economic development).

The conclusions were unsurprising --- that yes, everyone involved in a Main Street program needs to work more effectively together and communicate more efficiently to ensure that all elements of the program remain integrated.

A concern among Main Street personnel seemed to be that despite the program’s proven development track record, politicians, government officials and traditional development types with no direct Main Street experience tend to underestimate its value.

If the program is perceived to be “too” focused on preservation or “too” focused on promotion, for example, that encourages the suspicion that it isn't sufficiently focused on development and therefore needn’t be taken as seriously as other strategies perceived to be tried and true.

That can be hazardous to programs in places like Texas and Montana, where proposed state budget cuts are ongoing threats to the future of state-supplied funding support.


I had a lot more fun during Bob Yapp’s nuts-and-bolts seminar entitled “Keeping Original Windows for Better Energy Efficiency.”

Yapp, a Des Moines native and professional preservationist and restorer who now lives in Hannibal, Missouri, probably is most widely known as the host of a 52-episode PBS series entitled “About Your House with Bob Yapp,” underwritten by the National Trust.

Yapp currently is developing in a restored Hannibal mansion the Belvedere School for Practical Preservation, already the go-to place for those who want to learn how to restore the windows of historic structures. He also is a lively, very entertaining and highly opinionated presenter.

If you’ve ever considered vinyl or other replacement windows in a vintage structure, for example, you might want to consider Yapp’s contention that window replacement is an “epidemic,” that suggestions old wooden windows need to be replaced to increase energy efficiency is a “big lie,” and that “it’s time to stop this madness.”

Yapp says that a properly restored vintage window is far more durable, more energy efficient and less expensive than any replacement, vinyl or wood. And historically accurate, too.

He had especially harsh woods for vinyl, “the least green product on the market” but now used extensively for both windows and siding; for “insulated” glass windows, which he contends have a life expectancy of only a few years because of the way panels are assembled and actually are not efficient at all; and for metal-clad wooden widows, more prone to rot than bare wood according to Yapp.

I sat in on two afternoon seminars, too --- both interesting and useful but unremarkable. One dealt with evaluation of events, promotional and otherwise; and the other, with organizational use of social media (FaceBook, Twitter and the like).


We'll be back in Des Moines early today for the general session, “Overcoming Challenges to Growing Your Organization.” I plan to attend south Iowa’s own Molly Myers Nauman’s seminar, “What Makes that Building Special? Learning How to ‘Read’ the Buildings along Main Street.” The closing plenary, featuring Stephanie Meeks, National Trust president, begins at noon --- and then we’ll be done. Or ready to begin, perhaps.

Heavy rain, scattered hail, wind and lots of lightning and thunder here overnight. For the first time in a long time the combination blasted me out of bed and downstairs to turn on the porch lights and try to see what was going on.

The forecast is for more of the same today --- the kind of day you appreciate Des Moines' extensive downtown skywalk network. That system has been criticized in the past for diverting foot traffic and therefore "life" from the sidewalks below, but it sure does come in handy when the variability of Iowa weather is concerned.

I've been parking cheap --- for free, actually, in the huge lot north of Veterans Auditorium, then walking the pleasant three blocks downhill to the plex. In unfriendly weather, it's equally possible to cross the street, enter the skywalk, then wind high and dry through buildings and across alleys and streets to emerge in the convention complex's second-story lobby. Can't beat that.

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