RuskinARC Newsletter: Maps and More Maps

Wisconsin Historic Maps Digitized

The Wisconsin Historical Society recently scanned and posted more than 3,000 of its rare maps and atlases online. There are some really interesting maps, including a map of Milwaukee in 1836 and a map of America from 1596! See them all here.

Getting Your Maps Online

We here at RuskinARC™ are interested to helping you with technology, whether you’re a customer or not. In that regard, we’ve put together a little screencast on how to get a Google Map of your endangered places or other location data quickly and easily on your website. Take a look:

Have something you’d like to see explained? Let us know

What’s New with RuskinARC™

This week, we did a little rework of some of the auto-generated description due to customer feedback around things like the built date and the roof description. Now the date text changes based on what is selected for the certainty field. If certainty is ‘approximate’, we say “built ca.1900”. If it’s ‘later than’, we say “built after 1900”, etc. It was also pointed out to us that the roof description wasn’t a complete sentence, so we also fixed that to make sure we don’t have any sentence fragments floating around. We also added a couple of more options for building type to fill in some holes customers were running into. It looks like the list from the National Park Service isn’t quite complete after all!

If you have any suggestions on how to make RuskinARC™ better for you, we want to know! Email us at

Be Sociable, Share!

    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.

    Be Sociable, Share!

      First RuskinARC™ Newsletter

      For those that might have missed the first newsletter, here it is. If you’d like to get it fresh off the press, subscribe to our newsletter with the sign up form on the right.

      Welcome to our RuskinARC™ Newsletter

      Main Street Accreditation for 2013 Announced (sort of)

      The National Main Street Center has announced 2013 members for their Main Street Accreditation program, sort of. There are a lot of press releases from the various cities, but no definitive list from the NTHP, at least that we can find. Perhaps the best way to see what new communities are being added, run this Google News search on “main street accreditation”. You can also catch the full list of all accredited programs here.

      Maybe they need a system that can map all this…

      EBook Sales Soon to Outstrip Paper Book Sales

      PricewaterhouseCoopers has said that ebook sales will surpass paper book sales by 2017, just 4 years from now. This isn’t too surprising as announced in 2011, two years ago, that ebooks were already more popular than paper books in their sales numbers. Now it looks like the rest of the world is catching up.

      Lest you think that this has nothing to do with Historic Preservation, let me assure you this isn’t just a fad and the transition from expecting paper to expecting digital is going to matter a lot to all of us in the coming years.

      RuskinARC™ News

      New Catalog View

      Lately, we added a “Catalog View” to RuskinARC™ in place of the “text descriptions” report. If you’re a client, it’s already working on your system. To see it go to Reports and then Generate the Summary Catalog. It consolidates your resources nicely, combining auto-generated descriptions with photos. Couldn’t be easier. Here’s an example (from Miami): Looks good even on paper. To try it use your browser’s Print or Print Preview once you’re there.

      Survey Forms

      We’ve added a few new survey form choices: most recently California, Kentucky, and West Virginia. We can also do custom output forms on request under our professional services like we did for a client in Toronto, Canada.

      New Look

      By now you’ve noticed the “new” look and feel. We hope you like it. It’s designed to look great and work well on mobile devices (iPads, tablets). Now it’s easier than ever to do your survey work right in the field.

      Pricing Adjustments

      If you’ve seen our pricing page on the site, you might have noticed our announcement about pricing and service adjustments.

      Over the past year we’ve taken a good look at what it really takes to develop, maintain, and support RuskinARC™. The new pricing structure is geared toward better business sense while still delivering real value for clients. Actually, it’s meant to (finally) allow us to deliver real power and reliability. We handle the backups, bandwidth, disk space, hosting, databases, security, bug-fixes, and all the other technical aspects so you don’t have to worry about it.

      We’re especially looking hard at how the pricing and service tier might be altered so we can provide great support to clients, which is critical. You already know that RuskinARC™ is an absurd value, especially when compared to “rolling your own”, maintaining an in-house system or worse, not having a system at all that will give you the insight and information you need in today’s fast-paced world. We think that won’t change.

      If you are already a client, you’ll simply stick with the pricing and service you have established with us. We don’t plan to charge any more than you’ve signed up for, and won’t be changing anything about your accounts unless you ask us to.

      Until next time…

      Be Sociable, Share!

        Generating the Florida Master Site File

        As I’m sure you know by now, RuskinARC™ generates important state survey forms automatically from the information you put in. One of the more unique forms we’ve had to deal with was the Florida Master Site File. It wasn’t so much the information on it that was unique, but the format it had to be in.

        The Florida Master Site File

        Page 1 of the Florida Master Site File
        The Florida Master Site File

        The Florida Master Site File is an electronic form, more specifically a PDF that the user needs to fill in on their computer. Once filled in, they can be sent to the Florida Division of Historical Resources where they are loaded into their database by directly pulling the information from the PDFs.

        After Miami Beach joined us as a client, we felt a moral imperative to get this form into RuskinARC™. They had told us pretty early on that their process for surveying at that point was to fill in the Florida Master Site File and then put the same information into RuskinARC™. This was the exact thing we were trying to avoid in making RuskinARC™ and we knew we had to do something. Getting rid of this kind of duplication is what the application is for!

        The Method to Our Madness

        Needless to say, when we started looking at integrating the Florida Master Site File, specifically the  Historical Structure form, into RuskinARC™, we saw immediately that it was going to be a problem. It’s not just that the form is a PDF, but a specially formatted PDF with embedded custom programming. We couldn’t just recreate it or make it a static form, we had to use the exact file issued by the Florida Division of Historical Resources. That meant figuring out how to get RuskinARC™ to fill in the PDF for us.

        Lucky for us Adobe, the makers of the PDF technology, has already thought of this issue. It boils down to us generating a mapping between our information and the information that the Florida Master Site File expects (which we’re getting very, very good at now). We then merge the PDF and the information file together and get a finished PDF out the other end, fully mapped and ready for the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

        The Results

        Now with RuskinARC™, you can export a whole district’s Florida Master Site Files and get a zip file with hundreds of PDFs all ready for submission. This has saved Miami Beach countless hours of work and it’s now fully integrated with RuskinARC™ to save the next Florida community that uses it even more time and money.

        Maybe our tagline should be “RuskinARC™: doing the painful work so you don’t have to.”

        Be Sociable, Share!

          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!

          Be Sociable, Share!

            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?


            Be Sociable, Share!

              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



              Be Sociable, Share!

                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.

                Be Sociable, Share!

                  New Features: Updated View Page

                  We’ve just released a pretty big change to how buildings and sites are viewed. For the longest time, we’ve had what I like to call the data dump view; a large list of vitals that, while informative, wasn’t very pretty to look at. It’s something that is very useful for professional surveyors to view what kind of wall cladding material is in use and whether the windows are original or not, but for the average viewer, it didn’t concisely tell them what the building’s story was.

                  Details View
                  The Details View

                  In a step towards a more story-centric view of RuskinARC, we’ve come up with a new condensed view for all buildings and sites.

                  Story-Centric View
                  The Story-Centric View

                  By making the map, pictures and descriptive paragraph the central highlight on this page, we’ve showcased the most important pieces of what this building is about. Most of the details that are on the Detail View are also auto-built into the paragraph as well, so almost all the information entered is still there, just with a much more friendly way of seeing it. And all the detail information is still available through a Detail View button at the top of the screen, so nothing has been taken away.

                  We think this is much more accessible for a public view of the site and gives a much better view of the story of a building rather than just it’s vital statistics.

                  You can check out the new view and how it fits in with the rest of RuskinARC by viewing the Old West Lawrence District. If you have any comments or questions for us, feel free to comment below or contact us.

                  Be Sociable, Share!