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.



Architectural Survey Work in the Field

We think that one of the biggest pluses in using RuskinARC™ for architectural survey work is its ability to work in the field on an iPad or Android device.

Field work has always been somewhat of a Holy Grail for architectural survey work. At first, it was a film camera with a notebook, walking building to building taking notes and hoping you brought enough film to finish the job. Next came the digital camera and a notebook, no more worrying about film but still stuck writing notes that you take back to the office and hope you can read well enough to put into the survey forms. And then… we stagnated. Most jobs are still done with paper and a digital camera.

But while architectural survey work might have stagnated, the rest of the world didn’t. Why carry around a notebook and camera when you could take a tablet computer that is a notebook and camera and GPS device and… anything else you want it to be!

Architectural Survey Work in RuskinARC™

Do your architectural survey on an iPad
RuskinARC works on iPads, tablets, and mobile devices.

Along those lines and in our growing effort to make architectural survey work easier, RuskinARC™ was designed to work on tablets of all kinds. With RuskinARC™ and an iPad, you can fill in the forms while standing in front of the building, take a picture with the camera and upload it all from within the application. Have an older survey in RuskinARC™? Pull up that information, while you’re there in front of the building, and update the information and upload a new picture. Also, if you have volunteers or interns doing the survey work, you can be on your computer in the office and see their updates and additions in real time. It’s all going to the same account in RuskinARC™, so you can keep track of exactly what’s going on. Not getting the kinds of pictures you need to do your work? Just call them up while they’re still in the field and let them know.

In fact, Miami Beach is already doing this, and capturing some amazingly detailed photographs in the process. With RuskinARC™, they’re able to know what they have and keep that up to date so they always know what they’re working with.

Are you?

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