An Open Letter to Nicole Curtis

**Please note** The following are my own words and opinions. They are in no way associated with the organizations for which I volunteer or am employed.

Dear Ms. Curtis:

I’d like to start by thanking you for all the work you have done to rejuvenate the dilapidated housing stock around the Twin Cities and elsewhere. The work you do is incredibly important and I admire your courage in completing projects in neighborhoods which others have written off. These communities are worth investment, and I’m glad that you have highlighted how strong and vibrant they are, regardless of what we might hear through the media. I believe that your efforts will contribute to a renaissance in these neighborhoods, and for that we should be grateful.

I, too, consider myself a preservationist. I’ve been volunteering with the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and Preserve Minneapolis for over four years; I graduated with a master’s degree in Historic Preservation last spring and I’m currently working in my role at Minnesota Housing to help homeowners fund projects to update and restore their homes. I wish I had your knack for home renovation, I certainly do not (I recently replaced a light fixture in my house and I’ve been riding the high of doing that all by myself for weeks), but I try to contribute to the preservation effort in any other way I’m able.

When I first discovered your TV show, I was excited – I thought, how awesome is it that we have this person in Minneapolis, showing off our fabulous city! But, as I followed you, read your posts and watched your show, I’ve become disenchanted. I struggle with the way that you present your opinions and beliefs, sometimes so abrasive that I feel compelled to defend the people you are attacking, although I otherwise agree with your viewpoints. It’s an odd dichotomy for me, because I want to support you in your efforts to restore the beautiful homes around the Twin Cities, but I just cannot defend your behavior. I cannot understand how publically attacking our elected officials will help us gain traction in the effort to preserve our existing buildings. I feel that your conduct is doing nothing but further dividing our community into two groups: those for preservation and those against. This seems ludicrous to me because common ground does exist. We should be working to find and cultivate our shared interests in the future growth and development of our cities, rather than lobbing insults at one another, burning bridges and impeding discussions before they even begin.

You have become a public figure with a large following and great influence, but you are using it in way that spurs animosity and distrust. I believe that you have an opportunity to change that, however. Instead of focusing on the times that we failed to save a historic home, let’s talk about our triumphs. Let’s talk about the places and buildings that thrive as a result of preservation. Let’s show the world that preservationists are more than NIMBY naysayers standing in front of a wrecking ball and that we deserve to be a part of the process of planning for a city’s growth. Let’s highlight the times that the city council got it right and give credit to those individuals working on preservation projects and strengthening their communities around the country.  Let’s promote preservation organizations and attend their events, speak to groups about optimism and hope for future of the communities that successfully balance preservation and growth. Let’s bridge the gap and find a way to work together, the result will be dynamic city neighborhoods that generate pride and economic stability.

If you take the time to read this and consider my viewpoint, I thank you. Your work is important, but just as important is the way that you use the influence you have developed. You have a unique opportunity to effect real change, but I fear that if you continue down the road you are on, preservation as a movement will suffer.

Thank you,

Claire VanderEyk

**UPDATE: MARCH 4th 2015**
Below is the response I received from Ms. Curits regarding this Open Letter. She commented on my post on my personal Facebook page. I responded to her comment with a comment on that post and subsequently sent her a direct email, to which she never responded:

response

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9 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Nicole Curtis

  1. Hear, hear, Claire! Keeping an open forum is crucial in field of preservation. It is often the case that aggressive preservation fanatics build a fortress around their views and leave little room for negotiation for the sake of progress.

  2. Perhaps Nicole Curtis has been in business long enough to know that developers with lots of money often carry more weight with city / county governing bodies than the will of their citizens (or the weight of local ordinances). Historic buildings are NOT renewable. And, sometimes the fight to save them is heated. Keep it civil but fight on.

    1. Thank you for reading and for you comment. I’ve never disputed that there are issues within the city’s planning system that, most of the time, make it difficult to save vernacular buildings like the home on Colfax. My only point by writing this is to say, the mud-slinging that has taken place during this debate is overshadowing the bigger issue, which is finding the solution so we don’t keep having this argument. It doesn’t seem effective to come to these conversations guns blazing and spouting accusations. Instead, we should all take a deep breath and begin brainstorming solutions to these very complicated problems.

  3. Claire,

    So beautifully written and well thought out, kudos! This represents the difference between a politician and a statesman (or woman!) and maintains respect for all viewpoints.

    1. Claire
      I very much agree with your Nicole article, and I agree she should – not abandon her attack mode on public leaders, but formulate more constructive criticisms. On the other hand, her bombast should not frighten the big hats in city hall, a few who are artfully oblique in their own political moves. I very much appreciate her commitment to preservation. What is more concern in my view is that some people in the preservation movement treat her as a pariah, not attempting to bring her into being a working part of the movement.

  4. My last comment somehow got tagged under my daughters cooking blog here it is again:

    This is the same old and dull argument I get on my Buffalorising.com posts. As violence is continuously done to our irreplaceable historic urban fabric we are told to be nice. Don’t rock the boat. We are supposed to be quiet and wait our turn to speak and only when the big money demolition gang asks us to speak. We are not supposed to speak up forcefully because we might hurt someone’s feelings and if their feelings get hurt they will not like us. I call BS on that. Hiding in a corner waiting for people to notice what is being lost has never worked. Stupidity needs to be called what it is “stupidity”. When these buildings are gone they never come back. We have spent the last 60 years ruining our cities. This was done while a complacent public sat back and remained polite.
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    1. Hi David – thank you for your comment. I do feel that you’ve misunderstood my message, however. I’m not at all trying to say that we, as preservationists, shouldn’t “rock the boat”. I absolutely think we should stir things up and shake the trees of the established “business as usual” ideas. My intention with writing this letter is to say that there is a better way of accomplishing this – a way that stirs less animosity and invites more productive conversation. I appreciate your frustration, and trust me, I share it! But I fear that the more we participate in these name-calling and mud-slinging fights the more preservationists will isolate themselves and then we’ll never see our ideas come to fruition.

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