A Recap of SurveyLA’s 2012 Workshops

By David J. Barboza

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If you follow SurveyLA, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been promoting our workshops quite a bit lately. As noted in an earlier post, we scheduled four of them this year, and last week we held the last one. Thanks so much to everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to learn more about the project and contribute suggestions. Attendance varied quite a bit, from just a handful to over 25 at the Northeast Los Angeles workshop, but all of the workshops were worth it. We’ll be tweaking our outreach to the places that had less attendance and following up with the people who showed up.

This year’s workshops were focused on the areas that are in purple on SurveyLA’s phasing plan map (i.e. Phase 3). The idea is to start connecting with communities that will be surveyed well in advance of teams going out into the field. We don’t expect Phase 3 surveying to begin until early to mid 2013. That means there’s time to let us know of places that have something important to say about your neighborhood’s architecture or socio-cultural history.

The workshop format was basically slideshow presentation followed by discussion. For people who aren’t familiar with historic resource surveys, all workshops included background information on SurveyLA. Similar information can be found on the Frequently Asked Questions portion of our main website.

If you went to a workshop you learned about the three groups that are part of Phase 3. The Mid City – Westside – LAX Workshop covered the areas that are in Group 1 of Phase 3: the Wilshire, Westwood, Venice and LAX Community Plan Areas (CPAs). The South and North San Fernando Valley Workshops covered Group 2 of Phase 3. This area includes Sun Valley-La Tuna Canyon, Van Nuys-North Sherman Oaks, Reseda-West Van Nuys, Northridge, Chatsworth-Porter Ranch, Granada Hills-Knollwood, and Sylmar CPAs. The Northeast Los Angeles Workshop covered Group 3 of Phase 3, the Northeast LA CPA.

An important message of all workshops was that there are many ways you can contribute information to SurveyLA, but we’ll take your information any way you feel comfortable giving it, even on a cocktail napkin if that’s your preference. So please don’t be intimidated by this long list of ways to contribute:

The things I’ve discussed so far are important, but the heart of each workshop was definitely the discussion. The chats raised many interesting issues. Participants had ideas for reaching out to new people in each community and how different groups with an interest in historic preservation might be able to coordinate their efforts to provide background research. Some people expressed a sense that the total amount of contributing research that could be done for SurveyLA is staggering and that several months seem like a short amount of time to prepare. A discussion arose at one point about places that are inside the City of Los Angeles, but not under City jurisdiction (e.g. college campuses owned by the State of California), and it was decided to err on the side of sharing information with SurveyLA about those places, even though the City cannot ultimately regulate land use on them.

One gentleman posed a thought-provoking question about the fairness of professional survey teams (as opposed to the public) making judgements about the significance of places in communities they may not have spent much time in. In response, we noted that survey work used to be much less participatory than it is now. SurveyLA thrives on public input since survey teams will not always be able to tell from the look of a place and their own background research who lived there, what happened there, or the extent to which the building may have been altered. Professional judgment is still a key factor in the survey process, but public input provides a context in which a fuller picture can emerge about a place’s potential significance. In other words, professional judgement works better the more information it has available. Furthermore, SurveyLA is not directly designating any historic resources. Fundamentally, SurveyLA is a planning tool designed to promote informed land use decisions.  Even if a property is not flagged as historically significant as part of SurveyLA, it could still become a designated resource in the future if it meets the legal standards at the Los Angeles, California or Federal levels.

Although our community workshops have come to an end for now, SurveyLA certainly has not. Surveys are ongoing across the City of Los Angeles, and for this project to rise to its full potential, we need to tap into the collective knowledge of the people who live, work and play in and around our historic resources.

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