Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Advocacy Week 2020

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Each year, the PA SHPO and members of Preservation Pennsylvania join other SHPOs and historic preservation partners from across the country in Washington for National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week to learn from and network with other states and educate our federal legislators about the important of historic places and spaces in Pennsylvania.

In this post, hear from two students who joined the PA SHPO this year for Advocacy Week Hill visits.

National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week 2020

This year’s Advocacy Week agenda included lots of meetings for national historic preservation organizations like Preservation Action and sessions about proposed changes to federal historic preservation legislation like the HTC-GO act to encourage more use of the historic tax credit.

PA SHPO staffers Andrea MacDonald, Shelby Splain, Elizabeth Rairigh and Scott Doyle were able to attend meetings on Monday and Tuesday. Preservation Pennsylvania Executive Director Mindy Crawford and member Roy Smith joined us for make Hill visits on Wednesday before returning to PA because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The PA delegation for this year’s Hill visits.

The highpoint of Advocacy Week is always our treks across Capitol Hill talking about historic preservation with our legislators. PA SHPO teams met with both PA Senate offices and 16 of 18 Congressional offices in a barnstorming session through Congressional office buildings.

All conference rooms and Congressional offices operated under a “no contact” zone protocol and there was no lack of hand sanitizer in Congress!

This year we were able to get a picture with a Rep! Here we are posing with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, District 1.

Here are some of the materials we provided toour Pennsylvania legislators:

Advocacy Week Newbies

This year Alli Davis and Meris Westberg, both first-year students from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and native Pennsylvanians, participated in their first National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week in Washington, DC.

They were both great additions to the joint PA SHPO/Preservation Pennsylvania team!

From left, Meris, Shelby, Andrea, and Alli in front of the U.S. Capitol.

Here are their takes on the National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week experience. I am happy to learn that the experience made them think about what it means to be a Pennsylvanian again after being away for years.

Alli

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania along the Montgomery and Berks County line but felt called very early on to explore other cultures outside my very small bubble. In 2013, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where I soaked up the diverse mix of people, city living, and breadth of cultural heritage.

I was called back to Philadelphia in the summer of 2019 to attend the Historic Preservation program at the University of Pennsylvania. I registered for Preservation Advocacy Week because I want to learn how to become a preservation advocate, how preservation can be used to benefit all communities, and what policies, regulations, and laws are in place to protect our cultural heritage.

I had to choose which state representatives to visit and advocate for expanding preservation funding. Of course I wanted to talk with my own district rep from Philly, but I’d also considered visiting some California reps.

California already has arguably the strongest protections in place for natural and cultural resources. Not that anyone can really say they’re against preserving our history, but from what I’ve experienced, it is difficult to convince many Pennsylvania politicians to spend more money and I decided to focus on what I thought would be a difficult sell.

I am glad I stuck with my home state. The SHPO provided the most impressive annual report demonstrating the benefits that the Historic Preservation Fund and the Federal and Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Tax Credits brought to Pennsylvanians.

From the offices I visited, everyone was equally impressed with the report and my nervousness was unfounded. I was particularly pleased that one office especially challenged the SHPO to expand its efforts to assist minority communities, an issue of which I am particularly passionate.

I learned that our elected officials are more interested in historic preservation than I originally thought. I was also thrilled to meet like-minded individuals fighting to protect all forms of cultural heritage. While I’m still not sure whether I want to be involved in governmental work, understanding the policies and initiatives in place has fueled my passion for preservation advocacy and I know I made the right decision to attend Penn and Historic Preservation Advocacy Week.

Meris

I have deep roots in Pittsburgh, and I think the reason I am now pursuing Historic Preservation professionally is because of the rich and varied history I was exposed to there during my childhood.

I left my hometown for college in 2006, spending the next twelve years – all of my formative 20s and then some – in Washington, D.C.  Now returning to PA (albeit the opposite side), I am revisiting this part of my cultural identity.

After spending so many years living and working in the shadow of the Capitol, I never actually stepped foot inside of it as a concerned citizen. I didn’t feel I had enough of a voice to petition for something, let alone for congressional representatives to listen.

That is why, this year, I wanted to challenge myself to participate in Preservation Advocacy Week. With a provocative Preservation Policy class under my belt, Penn Preservation on my signature line and newfound voting rights, I felt freshly empowered.

The entire Preservation Action group spent a day discussing the state of the field, recent accomplishments and future challenges. At the end of day one, we met our fellow Pennsylvanians to strategize.

The fantastic representatives from the PA SHPO and Preservation Pennsylvania were organized and mentally prepared. We had a full day of meetings scheduled with representatives from across the state and across the political spectrum. As seasoned advocates, the team ran through scenarios of ‘good’ and ‘less good’ meetings, which helped calm my nerves.

For this round, I was mostly there to learn and observe – which I was thankful for.

Shelby and her team’s breadth and depth of knowledge about Pennsylvania heritage blew me away. They could recall specific projects in specific districts to discuss with each legislative aide to make “the asks” really resonate. It made me appreciate the complexity of our state, and of doing state-level politics – and how much I have to learn about both.

Being part of the Pennsylvania delegation helped to reconnect me to my PA roots and has inspired me to explore and reinvest in the state I now call home again.  

Author: Shelby Weaver Splain

Shelby Weaver Splain is the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office. Shelby is a native of Bucks County and holds a Masters degree in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Historic Preservation from Goucher College.

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