by Diana Torres
Planning can be abstract, so the “My 2040” blog series aims to connect planning to real people throughout the region. The following is one in a series of interviews with residents throughout the region. The views expressed are not necessarily those of CMAP itself. To learn more about this series or to participate, please read more about the program.
Special thanks to Michael Lambert for taking the time to share his thoughts and ideas with CMAP staff. Michael can be contacted directly at 815-436-8133, ext. 12 or email@example.com.
Michael Lambert is the president and founding principal of ARRIS Architects + Planners, P. C., located in Plainfield, Will County. Michael helped to found the Plainfield Historic Preservation Commission and served as chair from 2004 to 2010. In addition, he has served on the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council, the Will County Historic Preservation Commission (which he chaired from 1992 to 1999), and served as an advisor to the Joliet Historic Preservation Commission. He also participated in community service efforts with the Plainfield Historical Society, Landmarks Illinois, and on preservation awards juries for Geneva, Hinsdale, Oak Park, and Western Springs. Michael obtained his Masters in Architecture -- Preservation Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
To learn more about how historic preservation relates to GO TO 2040, read the Historic Preservation strategy paper.
Q: What aspect of GO TO 2040 excites you most and why?
A: I grew up on a farm outside of Plainfield on a one-lane gravel road, now Weber Road, in the Village of Bolingbrook. I’ve always had an interest in historic preservation. I was fascinated how stand-alone communities can get absorbed into the suburban ring and make that transition while maintaining their identities. An aspect of planning that is inevitable throughout our region is how communities integrate both historic preservation and new development. New people have come to the outer suburban rings, and they often don’t get engaged [with their communities]. When people get attached only to a particular school and a particular house instead of a community, the importance of local historical places has no meaning in a community. With a lack of understanding or interest, those important historic places are lost.
Advocates are important to help promote awareness of these [historical] areas. For example, when the Plainfield Historical Society partnered with Plainfield Schools and took third graders on a walking tour, we received many comments of surprise at the number of historical sites that exist in Plainfield. In order to have successful historical preservation, it is important that the GO TO 2040 plan emphasizes the importance of preservation, where possible and appropriate, in order to maintain our community identities. A community like Plainfield is a good model of the type of innovation that is possible when you get a group of passionate individuals on commissions. Some communities do historical preservation really well, such as the City of Aurora and Kane County, where the municipal government has typically been supportive.
Q: How does the GO TO 2040 draft connect to your community in terms of topics such as enhancing transportation options; increasing housing opportunities; addressing issues related to water, wastewater, stormwater, open space, and energy; the importance of density in future development; investment in education and workforce development?
A: Community and municipal plans are important. But in my opinion, boundaries are less significant when speaking of historic preservation because history occurs regionally without respect to imposed borders. As the GO TO 2040 plan shows, [many issues related to planning can occur] on a regional and global level, even as we try to refine our [local] communities. The balance between historic preservation and our existing communities is relevant; historic preservation is not only about keeping the best of a particular time, but rather maintaining the representation of some of the best thinking of each period so that the major developmental trends in the life of a community are preserved and integrated into the continuing community story. It is unfortunate when the past is eradicated for the sake of contemporary development. Oftentimes we see subdivisions naming a street in honor of a historical site, but the actual site is destroyed instead of making an effort to save it.
Elected officials need to support these preservation efforts and create innovative programs to celebrate history and our historic resources on their original sites instead of moving them to another location, as is often the case. Instead of allowing historic places to be encountered by our residents as part of their daily routine, buildings that are artificially assembled in museum-like parks become an attraction, to which residents of the community must be enticed to visit. These often result in only a small percentage of the local population having contact with those historic places. The bottom line is that the Chicago metropolitan region is one of the greatest areas, and we need to allow each community to have its own sense of place. As a region, we have tremendous potential to be tourist-friendly with enough distinctive places that are connected. We should connect our communities by bike and mass transit so that all our livable communities -- with their unique historic resources -- are integrated into the greater region.
Q: Identify an issue that is important to you personally, your community or our region and share how you think CMAP is addressing it in the plan.
A: In many ways, historic preservation promotes positive impacts for the regional economy and environment. As the GO TO 2040 plan highlights, these are areas of importance to our region and should be enhanced in the future. Economically, historical preservation demands more creativity in order to retain community character. It also employs specific trade skills in order to restore sites. People from across this country and the world want to visit authentic American places. Respecting and promoting our historic sites can be a significant tool for regional economic development. Even in today’s slowed economy, we find that heritage tourism is still highly ranked within the industry.
Q: Are there additional recommendations for our region as we continue with the GO TO 2040 plan?
A: There are several strategies that can be employed to promote historic preservation throughout the region. The first is education, where elected officials, community residents, and students can learn more about the history of their communities. Part of the education effort is to ensure adequate funding of programs that promote education; we see increasing demands being placed on the limited resources of existing programs of volunteer-based organizations. Local ideas that have successfully promoted education about our history include the restoration of building facades in Plainfield; cell phone tours in Aurora; tours of locally-important buildings and places; and collaboration with local schools.
The second strategy is employing local preservation ordinances that are understood by our elected officials and that actually protect historic buildings and sites. There is an impression that restoring buildings and places yield no economic return, but it’s simply not true. Many people have grown tired of malls; we have seen the growing trend of “lifestyle malls” that attempt -- sometimes very successfully -- to replicate the qualities of our historic downtowns. Integrating historic preservation with the changing face of our communities as we grow in population has proven to be a successful community development strategy in many regions.
Q: Please share any additional thoughts, ideas, or comments you may have.
A: Historic preservation should not be the last consideration when reviewing proposed development plans within our communities. Too often, that strategy dooms the success of creatively integrating history into contemporary places. Evaluation of and thoughtful consideration of the adaptive use of our historic places is not only environmentally responsible in many cases, but also serves to retain identifiable communities that stand out. CMAP should have this at the forefront of implementation efforts for the GO TO 2040 plan.
This is not to say that every building can be saved, but rather that everyone needs to be honest about the value of the historic resources in our communities and work cooperatively to protect community identity. Unfortunately, preservation options are often discussed at “the midnight hour” because projects have been planned without consideration of preserving our historic buildings. Once the threat is realized, advocates are often unfairly criticized as trying to stop a project at the last minute “when it is too late.” Portrayed often as obstructionists, most preservationists are consulted only at the point when time is limited and information must be transmitted quickly… often with the inability to counter months of organized efforts on the part of those who do not value our historic resources. In reality, many local preservation organizations have well-informed members who could provide valuable insight if included early in the development process.
As a regional agency, CMAP should, in my opinion, help define historic preservation on a regional level to empower preservation efforts. It would also be advantageous to make use of our scenic byways like Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, or the I&M National Heritage Corridor to strengthen the connectivity between our region’s communities. I would like to see our region’s communities talking more with each other about their preservation efforts; I see that now with communities collaborating between the Des Plaines River and the Fox River, some west suburban communities, and some eastern Will County communities. But, municipal planners and governments need to be more involved with and aware of these collaborative efforts as well.
Historic preservation should be integral to the planning process and should be thought of from the beginning, not as an afterthought. By working with organizations like Landmarks Illinois and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, as well as local commissions and societies, historic preservation can have a timely voice in the regional and local community planning process.