This interview was recorded at the Are We There Yet: Preservation of Roadside Architecture and Attractions Symposium, April 10-12, 2018, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Robert Melnick: My name is Robert Melnick. I’m at the University of Oregon. I’m Director of the Cultural Landscape Research Group, which is part of the Department of Landscape Architecture in the College of Design.
We’ve been working on the Los Alamos Project now for about a year, and it seemed like a great opportunity to share our ideas with other people and also it would encourage us to learn from other people. It’s both talking and listening at the same time. As you well know, I’m an absolute fan of NCPTT, so any excuse to once again meet up with old friends and meet new friends and new people is always a great opportunity.
If I have to look back on it this morning, the challenges of addressing preservation at a site like Minuteman Missile National Park was something that I learned. I actually love the fact that they were intent upon preserving and then presenting for interpretation of [inaudible] that kind of everyday aspects of life, the mops and the watering can. And it wasn’t just the stuff that it’s remembered for, but it helps us to understand that people lived there, and they had a life there. I think that’s something that I learned just from watching that. But there are other projects as well that were just excellent.
I think in NCPTT is doing quite well with this series. I’m really glad to see new topics, new arenas, things that other people are not doing. I think that’s the biggest challenge for NCPTT, given its location and given its focus, getting out there, doing symposia that are not in Natchitoches, which is not the easiest place to get to, but is a remarkable place nonetheless, but also an opportunity for people to take on topics that otherwise they wouldn’t take on.
I was very impressed at this symposium with how few people there were from universities, that most of the people presenting… and I think most people attending, are from agencies or other organizations. Just a few of us are from universities and that is very atypical for these kinds of meetings. And so I think that’s reaching out to those people is really a great idea.
I think one of the… and this is not my idea, but I will still use it because I think it’s a good idea. I think our heritage of the future is going to be looking back at this era of climate change. Just as we look back on the CCC, and we look back on the Industrial Revolution, or we look back on, name the period you’re talking about. And I think a conference, at least every five years, a symposium every five years says, “Okay, in the last five years, what do we know about what’s happening to these valuable resources?” They’re being affected in ways that we don’t know and we could never predict.
One of my big issues right now with the way preservation is handled in this country is that all of the preservation standards assume a constant environmental milieu and frankly that doesn’t exist anymore. So going back and saying, “Okay, we’d like work for the past five or 10 years maximum. How have the effects of climate change?” I think climate change is too big a headline. We’ve got to talk more detail.
Has it been earthquakes? Has it been storms? Has it been floods? Has it been drought? Has it been fires? How have these things affected historic and cultural resources, whether they’re landscapes, or buildings, or archeological sites or other sites? To do that on a regular basis and for NCPTT to establish itself as the place where every five years that is done, I think it would be a major, major contribution to the field.
Robert Z. Melnick, FASLA, is professor of landscape architecture at the University of Oregon, and Senior Cultural Resource Specialist with MIG, Inc. He has been working in cultural landscape studies – research, planning, and stewardship – since the 1980s. His most recent award-winning work, as PI for the UO Cultural Landscape Research Group, addressed the impact of climate change on cultural landscapes. Melnick is co-editor of the award winning book, Preserving Cultural Landscapes in America, (2000). In 2008, he was awarded the James Marston Fitch Award by the National Council for Preservation Education for lifetime achievement in historic preservation education.