April 17, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 14

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    Cultural Policy conference will dig deeper into historic preservation cases

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office

    [Soldier Field, Photo by: Elliott Brennan]
    Soldier Field, currently under construction, is one Chicago landmark that is at the heart of several historic preservation cases that have surfaced in the city. The Cultural Policy Center at the Harris School will address the issues surrounding these cases at a conference Saturday, April 19.
    The controversy over the skyboxes now being built on top of Soldier Field has been big, noisy, divisive and intensely political - in other words, a typical Chicago-style fight. It also is a particularly dramatic case study of the volatile convergence of the interests of developers, business owners, residents, historians, community leaders and politicians in a landmarks preservation dispute.

    "The preservation of the built heritage is no easy affair to manage," said Richard Epstein, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law, one of the organizers of "Building on the Past: Landmarks Policy and Urban Development," a Saturday, April 19 conference that will examine Soldier Field, the recently designated "Historic Michigan Boulevard District," and other historic preservation cases.

    The conference participants will shed light on the reasons for preservation, the policies and tools to do so, and the complicated politics that inevitably arise.

    The all-day event is this year's Arts and Humanities in Public Life Annual Conference of the Cultural Policy Center at the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies. It will be held in the ballroom of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

    "Market institutions find it difficult to take into account the diffuse value that historic preservation imparts to a community," Epstein said. "Government programs are often directed to the wrong targets or are destructive of private rights. Explaining what should be done and finding out who should do it are the challenges that our conference poses at a time when disputes such as the battle over Soldier Field become ever more pressing on the public agenda."

    The conference will feature panelists who represent the full spectrum of interests involved with historic preservation. Joining the discussion and debate are: Alicia Berg, Chicago Commissioner of Planning and Development; Ned Cramer, curator of the Chicago Architecture Foundation; Vincent Michael, director of the Historic Preservation Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Blair Kamin, architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune; and David Bahlman, president of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois. Other leading scholars and architects, a developer, and a historic preservation specialist with the U.S. government also will participate. The day will end with a roundtable discussion moderated by John Callaway, host and senior editor of Chicago Stories on WTTW-TV.

    "Landmarks preservation used to be a lonely political struggle," explained Lawrence Rothfield, Faculty Director of the Cultural Policy Center and Associate Professor in English Language & Literature and the College. "But as the value of historic sites and landmarks has come to be recognized, saving and exploiting that value has emerged as a key component in urban planning and community development - although the controversies over Soldier Field, Maxwell Street and the renovation of the Medinah Temple show that putting preservationists and developers at the same table hasn't solved all problems."

    The agenda will include three sessions: "Why Preserve? Public Memory and Heritage Preservation," "Preservation Policy Frameworks and Tools," and "The Politics of Preservation." "The goals are to improve public understanding of existing heritage policies and the landmark designation process, to provide a forum for informed debate and to develop effective policy recommendations for the future, not just in Chicago, but across the country," said Carroll Joynes, Executive Director of the Cultural Policy Program.

    The conference will be used as the basis for a Web site with position papers and extensive links to relevant sites and documents, including two post-conference reports from the Cultural Policy Center. The first of these will be a policy brief with best practices for policy-makers and advocates, and a second will be a conference report intended for a broader audience.

    Complementing the conference are small exhibitions and film screenings planned by other Chicago organizations to broaden participants’ background, including an exhibition on historic preservation on South Michigan Avenue in conjunction with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

    Admission to the conference is free, but pre-registration is required. To register, call (773) 702-4407.