The Place is Not the Story

There are a number of ways to structure a story about great historic places. How you choose is going to be based on how much story you have to tell, and on how you are able to turn “data” into something richer and more appealing.

Picture1The first thing to remember is, the place is not the story. For instance, you may tell us how a building is the first skyscraper in Kentucky or a perfect example of Art Deco, but the short list of people who will care about those data points are architecture students and historians. What we care about are people, someone we can relate to personally. That should always be the main thread of your story, how this place affected people like me.

Stories of Place

Picture3Saying that, sometimes a place has so much history that you want to tell a story centered around it. The key is, make the story about the people that lived, worked and played there. Tell the story about the architect and how this place fits into his career, about the builders who labored for months, the original owners’ dreams for the building and how it was converted into a family-owned deli and how that helped the surrounding neighborhood prosper and grow. You can do that with RuskinARC while at the same time creating a powerful, rich repository of info about your places.

I call these “Stories of Place” and that place could be a building as well as a city. Just like in the movie “The Red Violin”, the story is about the people that changed and adapted the object over the years but the object itself is only important as the anchor for the story.

Stories of People

Picture4You could also tell a story about a certain person or group of people and how they affected a certain place. The first example here would be an architect or builder. It seems that every community has a resident architect that gave a part of the community a flavor not seen in any other part of the country. Tell us who that architect was, what their influences were, why they picked their certain style and how that affected the community around them. Show us all the places they designed or built and why each one matters to the people living in the community today.

This is also the story you would tell for famous individuals that lived in the community and where they did the work that made them famous. Tie your places back to something we know or care about and we’ll be much more interested in the places themselves.

Stories of Events

Picture2We all have events that have touched our lives and every community has them too. They could be something as simple as the story of the founding of a city or a disaster that left its mark that you can still see today or a triumph such as an invention or a disaster averted. All communities have these stories hidden away in their history and if you can bring them out and show how they affected the people living there, we will put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what it must have been like to live through it.

These are the stories that you’ll need to tell us if you want us to care about your community.

If you aren’t telling these kinds of stories to us today, get started!

Storytelling in Historic Preservation

We here at CRE Planning and Development have been thinking a lot about how historic communities present themselves online. Many, we’ve found, have taken the approach of putting raw data online about their various historic resources. While this might satisfy experts in this field, it won’t bring the spark needed to gather the public’s interest. For that, you need a story.

videothumbFirst, let’s define some terms:

Data are the hard, raw facts. Three chimneys, brick walls, built in 1927, etc. Data is extremely important to experts and useless to nearly everyone else. RuskinARC lets you do gather that information easily, and much, much more.

Information means turning raw data into something else — story, knowledge, insight. This is the reason we built RuskinARC, to facilitate turning data into information. Give it your raw data and RuskinARC can give you a map of the buildings, what styles are common in the center of town, what parts were built first and which were added 30 years later. Here’s an example from Abilene, Texas. Information is vitally important to your work.

But your work is what brings sense to the information and transforms it into….


The public is going to be most interested in how people fit into all of this information and doing that is storytelling. I would contend that storytelling is the main reason you’re in this field, because you can look at the information and see a story in it, a rich history. You see ebbs and flows in the community’s economy and local influence, imagine what families went through living at different times within the community and how the people of a community shaped the current culture and character.

This is what people want to know about and what will get them excited about preserving that heritage. Public engagement. As a layman, I might not be too interested in the facts of the place, but we’re all human and if I can imagine the Civil War soldier running over the battlements to defend the west wall or picture the families on the stage coach rolling down Main street on their way to new homes west, or a soldier boarding the ship for his voyage to Normandy, I’m much more likely to be interested and truly care about the places where they lived and worked. Engagement requires empathy and you do that with your story, not with data or information. Your job is not only to see that story, but to communicate it to those who are prepared to protect your community or visit it and help it thrive.

Watch a quick video to get a better sense of what RuskinARC is working toward when it comes to storytelling:

What do you think? How important is storytelling to your job?


Endangered Places Lists: The RuskinARC Way

One of our most recent improvements to RuskinARC has been the addition of trial accounts that anyone can sign up for and use for small projects that they may have. One of the types of projects that we’ve been seeing a lot of people talk about lately is Endangered Places lists. We feel that it’s important to promote these fragile places as prominently as possible and try to get the story across about why these places are important to the heart and soul of the surrounding communities.

To help with that, we would like to extend an invitation to all communities to use our trial accounts to promote your Endangered Places and help tell their story.

Why RuskinARC for Endangered Places Lists?

We’ve seen Endangered Places lists in a couple of forms lately, including Facebook posts and Google Maps and all of them seem to be lacking a certain cohesiveness. It’s hard to get across the story of how these things are connected and what they mean, either because the Facebook post has no map and it’s hard to conceptualize where these place are or the Google Map doesn’t have images or good descriptions so it’s hard to tell what these places are.

RuskinARC is designed to tell the whole story, with maps, pictures and descriptions to give a whole sense of where these places are, what they mean and why they’re important to protect. We are currently working on features that will make that storytelling even more powerful, but we also think that RuskinARC is the best tool out there right now for sharing and showcasing this kind of preservation work.

How To…

As a little primer for setting up an endangered places list in RuskinARC, let me run you through some of the first steps.

First, sign up for a trial account. You can name the account whatever you want, but I would recommend just naming it whatever you call your endangered places list, say “The Richmond Fragile Fifteen” or “Raleigh’s Endangered Places”.

After you activate your account from the email we send you and log in, you’re put right into adding your first buildings. For best results,

  • Add pictures. Nothing tells a story of what a place means like pictures. Trial accounts are limited to two pictures for each place and we would recommend uploading a historic picture of the place and a picture of it now to add contrast of its change over time.
  • Fill out some of the historical and architectural details. Those fields are used to generate a description of the building when people look at the details of it. It also makes it easy to search for specific architects or time periods.
  • Fill out the Additional Description, Remarks, Significance section with the place’s story. This is the other important piece that builds the rich description for each building.

After adding five places, you’ll be taken back to the description of the last place you entered. To keep adding more, just click on the New Resource link in the top right menu.

Once you’re done adding them all, feel free to look at the map and image view to see how everything looks. If you’re happy with it, click the Settings link on the top right menu. This will allow you to change the Home Page Summary for the whole project, which will show on the Summary screen when people first visit. You can also set the project as Publicly Viewable, which will allow anyone to come and view your project (but they can’t edit it). After you save that, copy the web address and tell the world about it.

While it does take time to get them all in, we believe that the richness you get out of it and the story you can tell is very worth it, to you and to your community.

Give it a shot and let us know what you think.