A Guest Blog, Reported by Will Vogel

Last weekend (March 4-6) the Historic Districts Council (HDC) continued celebrating “40 years of activism” with their annual preservation conference: Looking Forward, Looking Back: Forty Years of Preserving New York City Neighborhoods. The theme of the three day conference was to explore and celebrate grassroots preservation through a comprehensive overview of how local residents have campaigned to save their neighborhoods from neglect, deterioration and over-development since 1971!

The conference kicked off with a bang Friday night with the Opening Night Reception, hosted by the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen.  LW’s Debi and Cristiana were there (as you may have heard via our Twitter feed), trading war stories with colleagues throughout the city, educating folks on our current “top priority” advocacy campaigns, and learning what other issues neighborhood groups like us are tackling.  A fun mix of business and educational pleasure!

Picking up early Saturday morning (8:30AM = dedicated to the cause!), the conference was back in full swing with preservationists coming from all over the five boroughs to St. Francis College, (just outside the heard-but-not-designated Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District in beautiful downtown Brooklyn–more here!)  Leading the charge was architectural historian extraordinaire Francis Morrone, with an informative chronicling of the political and cultural environments that has existed in New York City over the past 45 years (since the Landmarks Preservation Commission was established in 1965). 

Next to the podium was Eric Allison, chair of the Historic Preservation program at Pratt Institute, and previous president of HDC, paralleling Francis’ remarks with a lecture detailing how this climate–ripe with change–set the perfect stage for the advancement of the preservation movement. To provide insight on the people behind the movement, Dr. Marjorie Pearson didn’t just monotonously list the movers and shakers name by name.  Rather, Dr. Pearson sang their praises, in true LW! fashion (seriously, we can be quite melodic when it comes to honoring the proverbial little guys who make change happen). 
From the speakers to the audience to the volunteers (many of them students!), there were many different generations of preservationists in attendance.  All agreed that while looking back at a movement that has been going strong in New York City for 45 years may bring some hard memories to the surface, the future of preservation is ultimately bright.  And who better to convey that than LW!’s own Executive Director, Kate Wood!  Read on …

Post-lunch, two breakout sessions allowed for a more intimate conversation about what can be learned from a successful advocacy campaign in the current preservation climate. One discussion featured Andrew Berman and his efforts in Greenwich Village as Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation; the other discussion featured LW!’s 25 years of fighting “the good fight” on the Upper West Side, as recounted by our own Kate Wood (obviously yours truly sought to show support for the latter–guilty as charged!). 

The theater was filled with friends old and new as Kate wove together the past and present history of LW!. Our past: A quarter century of feisty advocacy, born from the passion of our founder, Arlene Simon, and fueled by the energies of a small (but nimble!)  staff and dedicated volunteers. Our present: A Kickstarter-funded venture into the world of mobile technology with an iPhone app. Our explanatory project video (informational and playful, wouldn’t you agree?) inspired folks from across the globe to support our project and help us reach (and ultimately surpass) our goal! In December 2010, LW! launched the FIRST EVER iPhone app walking tour of Manhattan’s Upper West SideMore than a dozen countries and 500+ downloads later, the rich history of our neighborhood continues to educate and inspire! With Kate’s conclusion, an alert crowd jumped into action for a Q&A exchange.
Two additional breakout sessions–addressing the preservation of Staten Island’s historic resources, and the campaign to designate Sunnyside Gardens in Queens–concluded the conference’s Saturday programming.  The following day, Sunday, March 6, conference attendees found themselves exploring all five boroughs with a suite of walking tours. 
The 17th Annual HDC Preservation Conference offered a bit of everything, leaving no one in want.  Except for when it ended–many wanted more! Thankfully, it not need to end there. Check back here to our blog often, or subscribe to LW! email news alerts, as we keep you informed of walking tours, lectures, conferences, and other activities taking place on the Upper West Side … and beyond!
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