We interviewed Joyce Barrett, executive director at Heritage Ohio to find out more about how the organization she leads is helping preserve Ohio heritage and maintain a sense of place in downtown areas around Ohio
Why did you get involved in Heritage Ohio and what is your main goal?
I started working for Heritage Ohio in 2004 because I have a passion for how historic buildings make a stronger community, both visually appealing but also the connection to people of the past. If you do not value the environment –the town- you inherited, will the people in the future care for the mark you leave?
Why are you passionate about saving historical building instead of developing new, modern buildings to revitalize a town?
I actually really like good modern architecture too, I think all historic preservationists agree, architecture and buildings are meant to have an impact on people. This is why in the middle ages people built cathedrals, they are inspirational architecture, churches transport you to be nearer to God. Historic Theaters the same, the fanciful or grand interiors transport your imagination to new possibilities. Schools have left that behind, unfortunately, they should be a physical presence, which inspires. I heard Garrison Keillor speak about the old train terminal in St. Paul, because of the grandeur, “You knew you were going someplace.”
Most contemporary buildings have become so utilitarian, they no longer add to a person’s experience. However, modern buildings can and do serve that purpose. In revitalization connecting the past to the present is important that each generation has a presence. Communities do not have the financial resources to tear everything down and start over. Would you want that if you could? Ick. The environmental concerns come into play also. It is disingenuous when schools teach kids to recycle paper and pop cans, but do not repurpose school buildings. What a waste,
How do you know when an older property is worth revitalizing?
You do not always know, but the trained eye has a good idea. Many people equate old with bad or obsolete. Many find treasure in antiques and design. In our profession, there is a difference between historic and old. A historic building has been documented and we know its story.
Many old buildings are waiting to tell their story; we just do not know much about them….yet. Some older buildings were built cheaply, but most were not, they have the advantage of having been built with old growth wood, and materials and artisanship that today we might consider cost prohibitive. Older school buildings had terrazzo and wood floors, which would last for centuries. Now they use carpet (ugh) and tile that has higher maintenance and replacement costs.
We have seen tons of older buildings where the roof has been missing for decades…yet still has good bones & integrity. Communities need people who know HOW TO DO preservation to evaluate the possible rehabilitation. Many uninformed officials have passed judgement on buildings that “must be demolished” and are frequently been proven wrong.
How do older buildings contribute to a better community?
As I mentioned before people interact with the architecture in their environment. Architecture should enhance the human experience, not dull our senses, nor be invisible. “Sense of Place” is a very popular catch phrase….but it is ultimately about living in a place that provides a better life for everyone…green spaces, trees, public art, walkable/bikeable streets, sidewalk cafes, local businesses, events and activities where you congregate to meet your neighbors. The decades of architectural styles – big windows, interesting details help make our lives worth living.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next 5-10 years?
At Heritage Ohio, I hope more communities get involved in the Ohio Main Street Program. This gives everyone in their town the opportunity to become engaged in big ways, opening a business, or small ways, like participating in clean-up days.
We want to see more financial tools available to help people help themselves, through policies like historic tax credits.
Heritage Ohio is also developing a revolving loan fund, to make money accessible to building owners. Commercial banking continues to have more constraints; we think a Saving Ohio Revolving Loan Fund could enhance traditional commercial lending to see more projects happen.
I want Ohio’s cities to have the “cool” factor associated with them, such that people, young and old want to move to Ohio, because they know Ohio communities are focused on a high quality of life for all residents
How can people get involved more in their community?
If you have an Ohio Main Street Program, or a Downtown Affiliate program in your community, send an email, give a call. I think people can band together informally, just ask one or two people to do a project with you. People do not often think of volunteering for their “city” but Chambers and Visitors Bureaus.
How can people find out more about Heritage Ohio and you?
Become a member of Heritage Ohio, follow us on Facebook. Attend one of our trainings or events, which take place around the state. We also do monthly webinars to bring more information to Ohioans. We have a YouTube channel where people can watch past webinars. Call us, we’re happy to talk to people out there interested in historic preservation and community revitalization.
Heritage Ohio’s mission is: helping people to save the places that matter | build community | live better.