Historic Preservation graduate students head north of the border

December 23, 2008

This fall, having only just arrived in Ithaca, first-year graduate students in Cornell University’s Historic Preservation Planning program (HPP) were already packing their bags and heading out of town.

The group, led by Jeffery Chusid, associate professor of city and regional planning, took a “mobile classroom” trip to Montreal and attended the Association for Preservation Technology International (APT) conference there.

“Historic preservation is a synthetic form of design, a kind of mother art,” said Chusid. “The purpose of the fall field trip is to bring the program’s first-year students to a city and talk about the evolution of the city and principal issues having to do with planning there. It is really important for our students to get as broad a sense of what a city means as possible. Hence we were talking about conservation issues on an eighteenth-century church, going to a drag show, going to the farmers’ markets, looking at the regulations that apply to how buildings are designated and protected, and more.” 

On the first evening of the trip, Nurit Shir, a first-year student in the program and a Montreal resident (when not at Cornell), led students on a tour of a vibrant city neighborhood. Beginning on what she describes as “a hip little street with little cafés and bars” and ending in an area where warehouses are being converted into lofts. 

”I wanted to show my classmates parts of Montreal that they most likely wouldn't have encountered otherwise: the old train tracks and warehouses, the community garden, and the quiet, colorful streets of the Plateau and Mile End,” said Shir. 

“For the most part we were new to the city, and getting to know a new city was really valuable in itself,” said Natalie Franz, a second-year HPP student who co-organized the trip’s logistics and assembled instructional materials. “Practice in reading new places and understanding their historic development is useful to have when considering a preservation plan for a large neighborhood or looking at a single building. I think being able to approach places with that mindset is part of being a good practitioner.” 

“We wandered the city looking at a lot of fantastic things such as the underground city, art sites, having lunch in Chinatown,” explained Chusid. “The point is to give the students a sense of place and the variety of stakeholders involved in the preservation of that place, along with the variety of resources — built cultural resources, natural resources such as the parks and rivers and canals, and intangible resources like the French culture of Montreal.” 

At the APT conference, the Cornell contingent represented the largest student group in attendance. All first-year Historic Preservation Planning students attended, joined by some second-year students and alumni, and  Professor Michael Tomlan, director of HPP and an APT fellow. 

The theme of this year’s APT conference was the interdisciplinary nature of heritage preservation. Students spent two full days at the conference and attended various sessions, including a panel on historic cements and binders organized by Chusid. 

“I think all of the Cornell students in attendance were happy to have had the opportunity to go,” said Franz. “For many of us, it was our first national- or international-level conference, and it was interesting both to get a better idea of the range of preservation technology professionals out there and to see how professionals share their work in the conference format.” 

By Michael Paul Simons

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