How important are your historic places? And why should we care?

Thriving activity, economic vitality, and historic "stuff" play well together.

We often get this question about historic places:

How do you grow downtown as the focus of commercial and social life, while honoring and sustaining its historic character?

Take Anytown, USA (or Canada/India/France). The downtown area is filled with historic commercial and residential buildings.

In Anytown, there is a passionate group of people who are convinced that their community’s historic properties are more than just relics.

The physical features of historic places are key components of its historic, economic, and cultural fabric.
The physical features of a place are an integral part of its historic,  cultural, and economic fabric.

They’re smart folks. They get it. They’re civic leaders, economic development people, architects, planners, Main Street Managers, merchants, and tourism folks.

Every day they are busy working to make their town or neighborhood thrive.

They want growth, investment, and high occupancy. They want lots of business, lots of appeal, lots of people bustling about, and tons of creative ideas. They believe that somehow they can grow without becoming “Generictown.”

The best “preservation treatment” is approaching historic buildings as tools for economic development.

Thriving activity, economic vitality, and historic places play well together.
Thriving activity, economic vitality, and historic “stuff” play well together.

We’re not talking about hardcore, “don’t-touch-historic-stuff-at-any-cost” thinking. Typically that approach isn’t successful.

Communities aren’t static. They’re like coral reefs, where evolution and change are part of the story. We’ll gain some and we’ll lose some, but we’ll always build on what we have and we can be smart about it.

Indeed, we’ve seen how historic properties are able to “play nice” with modern redevelopment activities. Think Charleston, Santa Fe, New Orleans, Lawrence, Portland, Miami, plus thousands of towns, villages, and neighborhoods. Places with identifiable character where much of it is tangible and  architectural.  Not to mention unique, humble, impressive, plain, ornate, interesting, and filled with story.

Historic places are where you start.

The smart money says historic properties and districts are more than just physical expressions of shared heritage; they are the basis of a community’s future aspirations. They’re where you start.

Historic places represent sustained investments over long periods. Investments that residents and city leadership have agreed are worth protecting (even when they weren’t “preservationists”). Places that somehow had enough of the right stuff to last a long time. Historic downtowns and neighborhoods shape the stage where generations of business owners, residents, civic leaders, professionals, and visitors have lived, met, done business, socialized, banked, worshiped, and engaged in the myriad of everyday activities that form the basis of every vital community.

So, how do you build a future on the unique character of place? How do you save the baby without tossing out the bathwater? What’s the best way to integrate all the stuff that’s been there a long time into all the stuff that is to come?

1. Know what you have.

RuskinARC makes it easy to record historic places on iPads, tablets, and mobile devices.
RuskinARC works on iPads, tablets, etc.

Do the inventory. First step in any endeavor. You can’t plan if you don’t know what you’ve got. Every business, grocery store, and boot palace knows what it’s got “in house” and plans accordingly.

The architectural survey is designed to look at historic properties and tell you what you’ve got, when they got there, what shape they’re in, and where they are. Without this information, it’s tough to make good decisions.

But for years the field survey has been too hard to do. Too wrapped up in esoteric terms or expensive and closed systems. Too detached from the planning process, and thus detached from the economic development process.

We created RuskinARC to make architectural survey and inventory work easy and fast, without sacrificing any power or control. It works on mobile devices, in the field, at the office, wherever you are. We are impressed at what some places have done just in the past months.

2. Make your survey information usable.

Historic places mapped and managed with RuskinARC.
Exports to GIS.

Hate to say this, but preservationists need to get out of the newspapers. If you’ve got a good handle on your historic assets and flexible data, you’re ahead of the game instead of behind it. And the information should be easy to export, manage, and use. Your planners are going to need it. The GIS people are going to need it. The economic development folks need it, as well as analysts, real estate folks, project managers, property owners, researchers, architects, and others.

Point and click architectural surveys for easy recording of historic places.
Point and click architectural surveys.

RuskinARC is a fabulous front end for collecting information about historic properties, but the back end is just as important. RuskinARC exports in seconds to GIS, Google Earth, Excel, plaintext, and more. Data, photos, attached files — the whole shebang. All keyed and nicely named for you. You can get a sense of this by trying it yourself. Get out with an iPad or tablet and give it a shot.

3. Put your historic places where people can find them!

Top: Uninteresting map of historic places in my home town. Bottom: map in RuskinARC.
Top: Uninteresting map of a historic district in my home town! Bottom: interactive map with photos, in RuskinARC.

Online, please, where we can engage.  And make it interactive. Lots of survey information is sitting around on shelves, in file cabinets, locked up in offices or in single computer systems, in PDFs or somebody’s Excel or Access database. You might have to drive down and ask the GIS guy for a map.

Argh. I have looked at far too many lists of addresses with no map, no photos, no story. And half the time, there’s no accessibility at all. I live in Lexington, Kentucky where we have fourteen historic districts. Try to find some information about them online.

RuskinARC makes interactive maps, sortable lists, and image galleries. It lets you search by architect, construction date, function, eligibility, street, and more. It lets you manage boundaries for districts, zones, or overlays. It lets you attach files, plans, drawings, photos, narratives, or whatever you’ve got.

The last college group I talked to didn’t even blink:

“If we can’t find your historic buildings online, they must not be important!”

I hope that’s not the message we’re sending.

So, why should we care about something if it either doesn’t exist or is not important? How do we attract creative planning and stewardship ideas? How do we broaden our audience, appeal to the public, show off our assets, AND satisfy planners, researchers, and GIS folks?

We created RuskinARC to be that solution. RuskinARC makes it simple to put your historic buildings online where people can find them. It’s an easy, powerful, inexpensive way to do the fundamental inventory work, while making information about your historic buildings and districts accessible and interactive.

Feel free to call or email if you have questions.



Your Historic Buildings are More Accessible than Ever

We are happy to announce that RuskinARC just got much faster, smoother, and more reliable! Due to recent demand, we moved RuskinARC to “bigger iron” — a better cloud infrastructure that can easily support all of you, your historic buildings, and historic districts.

Not to mention all those great photos!

What does that mean for you? Here are some points to know about:

  • RuskinARC was only unavailable for a few hours but we did lots of prep. We’ve got a lot of your great information and wonderful pictures to move and didn’t want to rush that process.
  • All data migration and set up was done by us. Hey, that’s the beauty of our cloud service model; no servers for you to pay for or configure. Just leave it to us.
  • You didn’t have to do anything special (that’s what you pay us for!) Prices aren’t going up, services aren’t changing. In fact, after we went live, you didn’t even know anything changed, except it was much faster and smoother.

So just sit back and relax. Your historic resource information is safe, secure, and super accessible. Your experience of RuskinARC just got a whole lot better.

How RuskinARC™ Will Save You Money

One thing we hear often is that people think RuskinARC is just too expensive. This always surprises us since our clients see RuskinARC as extremely cheap compared to the current practice of doing repeated architectural surveys. In order to find some common ground, we’d like to explain a little better.

The Traditional Architectural Survey

Let’s talk about costs for architectural survey work and how our clients have used RuskinARC to save money while providing a better long-term base for preservation planning. Long story short: RuskinARC dramatically cuts the time it takes for reporting, mapping, analysis, and other survey work, resulting in huge cost savings.

For example, let’s say your organization needs a historic architectural survey done of 200 buildings in your downtown. Average costs for survey work are hard to pin down, but our professional experience has shown that in Kentucky you can expect it to cost up to $50 per site. In Kansas, Illinois, and Tennessee we’ve worked at $90-$100 per site.  In other places, $68-75 per site. It varies based on the project scope and geographic area you are working in.

So let’s say it’s $70 per site. For bid or estimating purposes, that means a whole project to survey, map, analyze, and report on those 200 downtown buildings will cost about $14,000. You send out your bid, hire a firm, and architectural surveyors hit the field. In the end, you receive a nice report, photos, and a binder of survey forms.

But now what? You get a paper report and a stack of survey forms and paper maps. You might also get a spreadsheet or database file and a DVD of photos. Armed with this material you will know where you stand for about a year before the catalog is out of date and stops being useful. Eventually the information, survey forms, and report get filed away in a closet or basement or other “archival location” and itself becomes a historical artifact.

For $14,000, you have produced something that is inaccessible to most people and very rigid in its potential to be used for any other purpose.

Rinse and repeat when you need to do another survey.

The Same Project with RuskinARC

Let’s do the same project with RuskinARC. A RuskinARC account is $2,988 a year for the Premium version or $1,788 for the Pro version. Let’s say you’re a small team and don’t need features like unlimited images and just go with the Pro version at $1,788.

A rule of thumb for survey work is that about half the cost of the job is field work, and the other half is reporting and analysis. RuskinARC has powerful reporting and mapping built in that will generate all the text descriptions and survey forms and map data for you. At the same time, it also creates spreadsheet data that can be exported for GIS purposes or imported into any other computer system you might need to use.

In other words, RuskinARC does half the work for you. No need to pay someone else.

RuskinARC works wherever you are; field or office or even home. This makes RuskinARC accessible to everyone so as the project director, you can enlist knowledgeable volunteers or students to do the initial field work and research, the way Miami Beach has done for its Art Deco District.

“RuskinARC makes [surveys] much easier.  We have [members of our preservation league] take field notes and photos with their own equipment and then they upload the info at home.  I don’t have to find limited office space.  I have had residents ask if they can just survey their own home or building. Without RuskinARC, it would not be cost or time efficient to train someone to do just one site.”
— Judith Frankel, Miami Design Preservation League

This is great experience for college students learning their way into preservation and planning practice and they’re savvy enough to know how to do it all with an iPad. Then, mix in a professional for review the way Oak Park has. In some cases, you can get the field survey for free (although, you might want to buy the volunteers lunch). You can even let the folks at the historical society put information in, as well as information from city planning or local experts.

And local volunteers and experts often do a better job because they’re more familiar with the area and able to add their special local knowledge as they do the work.

Depending on the project, you can get professional results using RuskinARC without having to hire professionals. RuskinARC has built-in oversight tools that ensure accurate information and consistency while capitalizing on non-professional sources of labor.

The Clear Advantage

Remember, you paid $1,788 for a RuskinARC account. The survey data flows in. Your survey can be reviewed by you or a professional and you can organize it, direct it, and watch all of the information grow from your office. As we’ve shown, RuskinARC can reduce costs by as much as 50% and probably more. Now your estimated $14,000 survey project has been reduced to less than $7,000. And once the information is in RuskinARC it doesn’t get less valuable over time, it gets more valuable as information is added, updated, and kept current with the changing environment.

You could do just one survey job this way and at $1,788 a year, RuskinARC won’t cost what the traditional survey job costs for several years.

With RuskinARC, you’ll be able to do this with all your surveys and correlate them to learn even more about your community and its resources. Growing your inventory, surveying larger areas, building a secure inventory, easily managing all of your information and producing sharp output on demand for less than what you’re paying now.

How many surveys would you normally do over three, four, or more years? How many do you wish you could do?

We think you’ll agree; RuskinARC is a less expensive way to do surveys. Instead of spending your budget on expensive survey work, spend it on activities that will actually save historic buildings and on preservation projects in your community.

Sign up today to start saving your community.

RuskinARC upgrades, new features!

Dear clients and friends of RuskinARC,

We’re starting the year off with a bang. RuskinARC is now better than ever for managing, mapping, and documenting your historic sites! It’s exciting to see all those great historic places mapped and managed online. Some projects are featured at — thanks to those who have let us showcase their historic architectural surveys and great places!

Major Improvements.

We wanted to make you aware of upgrades that will be rolled out on Sunday, December 16th, 2012. The improvements make RuskinARC work better in several important ways.

resource_summary_viewQuick summary of changes:

  1. New navigation — now condensed into smaller two top bars, allowing your sites to “shine” better onscreen.
  2. New “responsive” screen layout. RuskinARC will automatically fit itself to screens better, whether you or your visitors are on an iPad, a tablet, or a regular web browser with lots of room.
  3. Explanatory “titles” and helpful hints on what certain things mean.
  4. New “carousel” view that shows the photos of a historic resource when viewing its summary. There is a “detail” view for each historic site that prints out all the information recorded about it, but we want your visitors to get a better look at an individual building. More is coming on that, after this rollout.
  5. De-emphasis on language specific to the US National Register system. We’ve altered language here and there to accommodate other countries which may not use the exact terminology used in the States. We’ve done this while retaining all the utility for those using the US National Register system.
  6. Easier to enter the information you need. It’s now easier to “skip” certain bits of information if they don’t apply to what you’re doing. We did this by allowing sections of the page to open or close.
  7. Easier to make custom survey forms. Snappier back-end. Bugfixes. And much more.
  8. Most importantly…

edit_screen_partialRicher, more complete input.

Our most significant upgrade is offering more ways to record information, in better categories. For instance, you can now talk about whether or not a resource is open for tours, whether it’s for sale or rent, and whether or not it is endangered, and why.

All point and click.

RuskinARC has always worked on the principle that you are free to fill out the form as completely or incompletely as you wish, depending on your need. With the upgrades we can accommodate important needs that weren’t addressed before.

Better location and map info.


  • Local place name for subdivisions, plats, blocks, and more.
  • Setting, Landscape, and Site Features
  • Acreage, parcel, land unit size
  • Quad/Map name and date
  • more…

You can now tell the ‘story’ by simply adding a Historical Summary.

This is a great way to engage interest beyond the details and description.

Endangered or Threatened?

Add notes, recommendations, contact information

Is it a tourism or featured destination?

Add Contact information, Hours, and Amenities

Is it for sale, rent, or lease?

Residential? Commercial? Mixed? Add remarks, comments, contact information, and notes.

Easier handling of architectural descriptions, with more detail, as needed.

Add simple notes on architectural style and distinguishing features
Use simple text in addition to detail fields.

Better ways to talk about eligibility and integrity.

A breakout on historic Significance and Context.

Theme, area(s) and period of significance.
Add a statement of significance as needed

Improved handling of secondary or ancillary structures.

Better handling of moves, alterations, additions, and modifications.


Thank you all.  Again, we look forward to hearing from you. Contact me any time.

— Glen Payne