Public Participation and MyHistoricLA: Introduction

A huge part of the SurveyLA project is public participation.

The official survey work is done by trained historic preservation professionals, who have a broad understanding of historic resources throughout the city. However, as the MyHistoricLA Guide to Public Participation points out, there are two reasons why we need involvement from the city’s population as a whole. I think of the first as the idealistic reason, and the second as the pragmatic reason.

Here’s the idealistic one:

SurveyLA is organized around the philosophy that you know the historic resources of your own community better than anyone. Only you may know the “hidden gem” just down the street or around the corner – an often-overlooked building or place that should become better known, long before it becomes threatened with demolition or alteration… (from the introductory letter by Ken Bernstein of the Office of Historic Resources, Page 4 of MyHistoricLA Guide to Public Participation)

And here’s the pragmatic one:

The sheer size and complexity of Los Angeles, a city of 466 square miles and 880,000 legal parcels, necessitates meaningful input from the people who live in every part of the city…(from “Introduction and Purpose”, Page 9 of MyHistoricLA Guide to Public Participation)

What this means is that SurveyLA is actually organized around the idea that information and materials from the public will be woven in with the “professional” surveyors’ material to eventually reveal the complex fabric of the city’s history. The primary tools for doing this are 1) the “Historic Resource ID Form” (click on the link to go to the online form, or see instructions/background on the form by clicking here), and 2) a guidebook to public participation activities and efforts called the MyHistoricLA Guide to Public Participation in SurveyLA. (The Office of Historic Resources’ page about the Guide is here.)

The MyHistoricLA Guide to Public Participation is a great resource for anyone who is interested in how surveys like this work, or who is thinking of becoming more involved in participating– either at an individual level, or in terms of organizing group activities. The programs and activities in the guide are divided into three categories:

  • Part 1, MyNeighborhood, about activities that provide a starting point or baseline information about neighborhood composition and history.
  • Part 2, MyStory, which gives guidelines for collecting data about potential historic resources through interviews and personal stories.
  • Part 3, MyPlace, which involves all of the nitty-gritty processes of researching individual properties and neighborhoods, from finding historic photographs to looking up original architects or former owners and occupants.

This post and the next three are all about the activities presented in the MyHistoricLA Guide and illustrate why these activities are critical to the success of SurveyLA; they provide information to directly assist field surveyors in identifying and evaluating potential historic resources as they move throughout the city (and this is not just a theoretical discussion– these activities and research processes are exactly what we interns are doing almost every day we come into OHR!)

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About Steve Duncan

Urban explorer, photographer, and historian.
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