Thursday, October 25, 2012

National Register Bulletin 38 in Context

The National Park Service (NPS) is soliciting advice about revising or expanding upon National Register Bulletin 38, on traditional cultural properties (TCPs), which Pat Parker and I wrote back in the late 1980s. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is issuing guidance on the related topic of considering effects on Native American traditional cultural landscapes.

People reviewing and commenting on, or otherwise participating in, these initiatives may be interested in the history and thinking that led to Bulletin 38, and to the broader intellectual contexts in which it, and TCPs, exist. Those who are may want to take a look at Places That Count: Traditional Cultural Properties in Cultural Resource Management, published by Altamira Press (now part of Roman & Littlefield) in 2003. Here's the Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: Getting Started with TCPs

Chapter 2: How did TCPs Come Into Our Vernacular: a Personal Perspective

Chapter 3: TCPs in Broader Perspective: Examples from Far and Wide (International)

Chapter 4: And Closer to Home

Chapter 5: TCPs in Broader Perspective: Theoretical and Synthesizing Perspectives (Plato to Basso)

Chapter 6: What Makes a TCP?

Chapter 7: Bulletin 38 Revisited: Identifying TCPs

Chapter 8: Bulletin 38 Revisited: Evaluating Eligibility

Chapter 9: Beyond Identification: Managing Effects

Chapter 10: Beyond Bulletin 38: Managing TCPs Themselves

Chapter 11: Consultation

Chapter 12: Some TCP Issues

Chapter 13: A View From the Hill (Not THAT Hill)

The publisher advises me that they have about 78 paperback copies in stock and about 79 hardbound; visit for information and to order. There are doubtless a few more scattered around booksellers here and there. All royalties go to Cultural Survival (

Friday, October 19, 2012

Gerson on "Shrunken Liberalism"

It truly distresses me to find how often I agree with conservative columnist Michael Gerson -- most recently with today's Washington Post column today titled "Shrunken Liberalism." 

"A few days after assuming the presidency," Gerson writes, "Lyndon Johnson was warned not to waste his energy on lost causes, however worthy.  According to historian Robert Caro, Johnson responded: "Well, what the hell's the presidency for?"  The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Head Start, Job Corps Medicare, the Clean Air Act, the Wholesome Food Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Public Broadcasting Act followed."  Gerson might have listed NEPA and NHPA too, but I suppose they lack name recognition.

By contract, as Gerson observes, "it is extraordinary how shrunken liberalism has become."  The Obama administration's "vision," he accurately says, "add up to the Marginally Greater Society."  Acknowledging that "(i)t is hard to be Lyndon Johnson with a trillion-dollar deficit" (Gerson doesn't mention where THAT came from, but oh well), he posits that American liberalism has become "reactionary liberalism,' concerned more with "the protection of accumulated interests than the application of creative reform to new problems."

As I've written elsewhere, we see what amounts to reactionary liberalism all the time in the tiny worlds of cultural resource management (CRM) and environmental impact assessment (EIA) -- both products of Johnson liberalism.  Practice in CRM and EIA has atrophied, become corrupted, become a big part of the problem of environmental deterioration rather than the part of the solution they were meant to be, and chipped away at the underpinnings of democratic society in the process.  But the powers that be -- self-conscious liberals all in entities like the Council on Environmental Quality, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the national environmental groups -- can find nothing to do but keep their heads down, clinging to and protecting the status quo -- and lying through their teeth all the while.

I wonder what would have happened had Obama come in with a truly radical set of fixes for the nation's Bush-created economic woes -- including a really Rooseveltian public works-driven stimulus program a la the WPA, with provision for everything that stood in its way to find ways to adapt, with the promise of real reform when the immediate job of recovery was done.  On the other hand, I wonder sometimes why we can't just acknowledge the obvious fact that nothing can "grow" forever, that we've stressed our resources to the limit, and that we need a fundamental rethinking of our economic and political priorities.  I wonder, most broadly, what would have happened if the Obama administration had been open to truly new ideas, rather than just to ways of defending the status quo.

Even the self-professed conservative Gerson, in the end, says that "America was better off because liberals called attention to those in the dawn, the twilight, and the shadows of life" -- and, I might add, to the environment that sustains us all and the culture that gives meaning to our lives.  "And U.S. politics is worse off," he says, "because liberalism has become a shadow of its former self."


CRL&P-4 Soon to be at a Bookstore Near You

Proofing and indexing (one of the world's truly mind-numbing jobs) are done on the 4th edition of Cultural Resource Laws and Practice, first published in 1998.  Altamira Press (Rowman & Littlefield) should have it in bookstores and Amazon, B&N, etc. in a couple of months.

I found editing this edition a truly depressing experience, making clear to me that however widely it's used in college classes, and however many CRM practitioners have it on their shelves, NOBODY has paid any attention to what it says.  Indeed, most of the dumb, counterproductive, anti-democratic, destructive practices I've railed about in all three of the previous editions remain in common use and in some cases have been enshrined in official guidance by the ostensibly expert agencies of the U.S. and various state governments.  Which I suppose should tell me something, so I guess I'm ineducable too.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Myth of the Overworked SHPO

We hear it all the time from State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs) and their staffs – “You ought to see the pile of work on my desk!”  “You should see the load of stuff I have to review!”  “It’s impossible to keep up with the workload!”  

We hear this plaint, mostly, as an excuse for slow and tardy reviews of plans, proposals, and findings submitted to the SHPOs under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and its regulations (36 CFR 800).  We also hear it as an excuse for failing to address difficult issues and the concerns of the public, for failing to seek creative solutions to historic preservation problems – “there just isn’t time; our workload is too big.”

It’s easy to sympathize with this kind of complaint, and for the most part we do sympathize – “we” being the consulting community, the federal agencies who think they have to get SHPO sign-off on their projects, the applicants whose projects get reviewed, and the citizens whose calls to the SHPOs for help go unanswered. 
Increasingly, though, I’m coming to think that our sympathy is misplaced.

Item: toward the end (I hope it’s the end) of a long-running effort to negotiate a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on management of a federal campus, consultation got hung up on the SHPO’s insistence that the responsible federal agency henceforth submit for SHPO review every minor change it proposes to campus landscape features (sidewalks, benches, plantings) – even though the SHPO has agreed that the landscaping makes no contribution to the campus’ significance.

Item: After spending some two months in silent possession of another draft MOA – drafted in accordance with the most current guidance on MOA preparation – another SHPO returned it with changes; these for the most part amounted to a random rearrangement of paragraphs, often in ways that made the document more ambiguous, violating basic principles of MOA construction.  

Item: Another SHPO is consistently slow in reviewing documents, and when reminded of an impending deadline claims that the relevant document has been lost and must be re-sent.  On one occasion the lost document was found (by a visiting agency employee) on a desk adjacent to that of the reviewer, where it had apparently languished for months.  Another SHPO, uniquely among parties consulting on an MOA, cannot handle electronic transmission of documents, but must have them all delivered in hard copy.

Item: An SHPO recently sat for over a month on an agency determination of “no adverse effect” based on a showing that although there were historic properties in the vicinity, none of them would be visually affected by a new construction project and there was scant likelihood that archaeological material would be disturbed.  The SHPO finally returned the document with a letter insisting that the determination be changed (inaccurately) to one of “no historic properties affected.”

Item: Several historic preservation plans (HPPs) I’ve reviewed lately, developed in consultation with several different SHPOs, either set out internal programs to ensure that new construction and rehabilitation are done in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s pertinent standards and guidelines, or require that professionally qualified personnel be embedded in facility staffs to accomplish the same purpose – or both – but at the same time provide for SHPO review of virtually every action carried out under the HPP’s terms.

To judge from the above examples – and others only modestly less ridiculous – I have to conclude that the SHPOs are imposing their burdens on themselves.  

First, they simply are not willing, perhaps not able, to let go of the opportunity/responsibility to review paperwork, regardless of the need for such review:

Second, they insist on tinkering in meaningless but time-consuming ways with every piece of paper that lands on their desks – or don’t tinker, but simply equivocate and delay.

Third, they organize themselves so poorly that they can’t efficiently process the paperwork they insist on receiving.

Fourth, they have such a thin understanding of their business that the dictates they impose are often flatly wrong, inconsistent with the regulations or best practice, or simply unnecessary.

Why do they do this?  I don’t know, but the pattern suggests a sort of existential crisis.  The SHPOs don’t know what purpose they’re serving but they’re desperately afraid of losing support for serving it, so they do their damnedest to convince themselves and the world that they’re frightfully busy doing vital public business. 

And of course, the business to which they devote themselves is safe business – business that’s unlikely to get them in political trouble.  However frustrated federal agencies and applicants may get with slow and stupid reviews, the issues are too esoteric, and too penny-ante, to justify filing complaints at high political levels.  And the public is too unaware of, or confused by, the whole historic preservation game to complain about having its concerns ignored while the SHPO staffs pile, paw through, pass around, ponder, and prevaricate on routine paperwork.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How Low We've Sunk

For someone like me, who's old enough to remember politicians who actually cared about the environment, the saddest thing about the current presidential and vice-presidencial debates lies in the total unconcern about environmental matters shown by the candidates of both parties.  We've gone from a time when controlling environmental impacts could be seen as a legitimate reason for not drilling the bejeebers out of public lands and lacing them with pipelines, to a time in which one candidate accuses the other of not allowing enough drilling and the other points proudly to the number of acres he's allowed to be despoiled.  A time when one candidate just can't imagine why the other didn't go along with the Keystone XL pipeline and the other rattles off the miles of pipeline he's let be built.  And the choice presented is between "drill, baby, drill" and "build, baby, build" -- build, that is, industrial windfarms and solar banks across every available inch of public land regardless of its sensitivity.

No doubt the pendulum will swing back someday -- maybe after a couple more Deepwater Horizon-style disasters, though the first in that series doesn't seem to have had any political impact.  And the reasons for the current trend are not hard to find -- the economy, the recession, the deficit, the legitimate need to be quit of foreign oil, AND the way we practitioners have allowed impact assessment to be transformed from an enterprise designed to protect the public interest into one that whitewashes projects and keeps us rolling in dough.  I don't expect to see change for the better in my lifetime, and I'm just glad that people like Lynton Caldwell and Bob Garvey didn't live to see their lifesworks torn to shreds.