Author: DJB

Saving the Past Has a Past

It is surprising that a field that has focused so much on the preservation of history has an unfortunate blind spot to its own history. Historic preservation is one of the longest-lasting examples of community development, land use reform, and public history in the United States. The stories of the past efforts of our fellow citizens to ensure that parts of our history are with us today and tomorrow are varied and fascinating. Yet many, both inside and outside preservation, tell themselves a simplistic and usually inaccurate story of how we came to value parts of our past in a country that too often only values the new and what’s over the horizon. The recently released second edition of Giving Preservation a History, edited by Randall Mason and Max Page, is a strong attempt to reverse our trend at historical amnesia in the preservation field. Through seven essays retained from the first edition, six new essays prepared for the 2020 book, and two concluding chapters to wrap both works together, the editors have endeavored to put forward …

Observations From…The City of the Future

Depending on your age and where you lived, your childhood construction toys of choice may have been Tinkertoys (my favorite); Meccano (if you or your grandparents were European); an Erector Set (I may still have the scar from falling off the top bunk onto one of our construction sites); or Legos (our children’s favorite). I started thinking about construction toys while standing on the top level of the Silver Spring transit center this afternoon, talking with an engineer, and looking down at the vast construction site that is now our front yard (of sorts). My mind wandered to, “These men and women on the site below may have started out on the family rug many years ago with the Erector Set.” Some of them may, in fact, be living their dream! For the past twenty years, we have lived in downtown Silver Spring. We cross a relatively narrow residential street and a small plaza set in the center of an office complex to get to the Metro station, which houses the Red Line. I use …

Saturday Music: Otis Taylor

Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Otis Taylor is the next featured artist in our Black History Month tribute to musicians at the forefront of the work to reclaim the African American contributions to folk, old-time, country and roots music. I kicked off the series with my January tribute to Amythyst Kiah and then began it in earnest the last two weeks; first with a celebration of the music of Rhiannon Giddens, followed last week by Dom Flemons. Otis Taylor was born in Chicago but moved to Denver early in life with his family. Taylor’s parents were jazz music fans. “My dad worked for the railroad and knew a lot of jazz people,” notes Taylor, while his mother “had a penchant for Etta James and Pat Boone.” Their house in Colorado was near the Denver Folklore Center, where he bought his first instrument, a banjo. During a NPR Music Tiny Desk concert, Taylor tells how he broke a string on his mother’s ukulele and went to the Center to get it fixed. While there, he became entranced …

The Flip Side of Ignorance

We seem to be wallowing in a great deal of ignorance these days. In Margaret Renkl’s wonderful debut book Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, she makes the comment that “It takes a lot of nerve” for someone like herself, who is “so ignorant of true wilderness” to put herself forward as a nature writer. But then she adds, “the flip side of ignorance is astonishment, and I am good at astonishment.” So many today seem content to settle in the midst of their ignorance and not face life with astonishment, awe, and a sense of wonder. As Renkl shows, that approach is their loss, but also, in many ways, ours as well. We are all connected, humans and non-human. Those who choose to abandon a sense of astonishment and wonder and settle in their ignorance continue to make decisions—often with very harmful consequences—that affect every other thing on this planet. “Every day the world is teaching me what I need to know to be in the world,” Renkl writes in another passage …

Saturday Music: Dom Flemons

Singer, multi-instrumentalist, and musical historian Dom Flemons is the next featured artist in our Black History Month tribute to musicians at the forefront of the work to reclaim the African American contributions to folk, old-time, country and roots music. I kicked off the series a little early with my January tribute to Amythyst Kiah and then began it in earnest last week with a celebration of Rhiannon Giddens. This week we’ll look at “The American Songster,” a name Flemons has earned with a repertoire that covers over 100 years of American folklore, ballads, and tunes. Along with Giddens and fiddle player Justin Robinson, Flemons was one of the co-founders of the influential African American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, playing with the group from 2005 until 2014 when he left to begin a solo career. He has performed at a wide variety of venues with a range of collaborators, including English folk legend Martin Simpson and Old Crow Medicine Show. (He has a cameo in the latter’s hilarious official video for their song Brushy …

Quest for the Best (Picture): 2020 Edition

An annual feature of More to Come is my take on the movies nominated for the “Best Picture” Oscar. However, it wasn’t until the 2019 Academy Awards show that I saw all of the nominees for the year in question. I was determined to do it again in 2020, and as of late yesterday evening, I’m pleased to say, “Mission Accomplished!” I always remind readers that I make no claims to be a movie critic. These are personal views without any understanding of the nuances of filmmaking and without a deep well of knowledge of the movies of the late 20th and early 21st century. (I’ve come late to the joys of film.) There is usually at least one movie I really loved that didn’t make the cut, and that’s the case again in 2020. I thought filming Aretha Franklin—at the height of her musical powers in 1972—singing 90 minutes of gospel music in a black Baptist church in Los Angeles, was transcendent cinema. As I wrote in my initial review of Amazing Grace, you have that …

Under Promise and Over Deliver

One often hears the saying, “Under promise and over deliver.” It could even be labeled a Dad-ism. I know I’ve certainly said it more than once to my children over the years. But some recent research suggests that it isn’t the best way to relate to customers, stakeholders, clients, and—perhaps—even children. I began thinking about this old chestnut after being involved in a situation where someone promised several outcomes, none of which came to fruition in the timeframe suggested. The individual actually over promised and under delivered—a big issue in my book. Here’s the Cliff Notes version of the story: I did a walking tour through downtown with staff from our local government to discuss several design and development issues. In the follow-up, I was told that specific actions—graffiti removed from new posts in the bike lane, tree stumps removed, trees replaced, paving patches restored—would be taken by a certain time. In each instance, even though I didn’t ask, specific dates were part of the promise. Four weeks later and none of the deadlines had …