Cultural Resources Insights of 2019

Posted in: Cultural Resources

bridge over highway

Happy New Year! As we enter 2020, I want to take a moment to look back at a few pivotal issues and innovations cultural resources experienced the past year.

Historic highways incorporated into natural landscapes

This year we studied how interstate highway engineering has changed—from the typical point-to-point designs to a more harmonious integration of highway with the surrounding natural landscape. We discussed the engineering innovations that led to the careful integration and preservation of the natural landscape along I-70 through Vail Pass and Glenwood Canyon. This milestone effort represents one of the first instances of this change.

Innovating for efficiencies in identification and documentation

GIS continues to be an integral tool for cultural resource studies. Last year our team made innovations using this technology to prepare for and conduct widescale surveys. ESRI published an article highlighting our team’s inventory of the historic industrial buildings representing Milwaukee’s manufacturing past. The resulting data has helped the Wisconsin SHPO identify resources that represent the city’s industrial heritage. This data has also proved useful to developers as they identify National Register-eligible properties that can use the Federal rehabilitation tax credit program to support adaptive use.

In addition, this year Mead & Hunt used a streamlined methodology for surveying and evaluating entire post-war subdivisions, which we introduced in the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Research Report 723: A Model for Identifying and Evaluating the Historic Significance of Post–World War II Housing in 2012. The team surveyed over 650 single-family homes near the “Spaghetti Bowl” highway interchange in Reno, Nevada using this new framework to streamline the evaluation of suburban post-war neighborhoods. The methodology places structures within national contexts while also recognizing regional and local trends. The success of this selective survey framework shows there is always room to innovate more effective and efficient ways to perform large-scale surveys.

Exploring historic trends in postwar office buildings

We also examined national postwar trends in corporate office development. To successfully evaluate the 3M headquarters and associated laboratories in Minnesota for historic significance under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, we had to research and understand the historic context that shaped these properties. During the postwar era, many companies shifted their headquarters from more traditional locations in the city center to suburban landscapes on the outskirts of metropolitan areas. 3M headquarters left St. Paul for a more suburban location in the suburb of Maplewood, making it a prominent example of this historic theme.

2020 will without a doubt usher in a new decade of innovation in cultural resource technology and methodologies. Overall, we’ve seen a push for greater efficiencies, and a renewed interest in understanding influences on our current built environment including post-war properties. We are excited to see how new trends affect the industry and look forward to successfully leveraging new strategies to deliver innovative solutions for our clients and communities.

Christina Slattery

About the Author

Christina Slattery specializes in historic preservation of transportation and engineering structures. She evaluates the significance of properties ranging from missile defense systems to road corridors, and develops creative mitigation strategies for projects.

Read more posts by Christina Slattery

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