Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Interview with Amy Jordan Webb

RR: How did you get involved with the work of heritage tourism and historic preservation?

Webb: Originally, my degree in college was in architectural history, and I think I got involved with that because I had grown up in a place that didn’t have a lot of older history. I grew up in San Diego, and so to me, when I was able to find old Victorian houses, that was a very special thing. And then when I went to college back east, in Massachusetts, just driving out to the college you go past all these houses that were built in 1820 or 1790, and to me it was so amazing that here was this architecture and people weren’t paying much attention to it.



So I really wanted to find ways of making people get excited about things that were related to the local history. So then my first eight years of working in Rhode Island as the director of tourism and education for a local preservation society – that’s I think really where I learned a lot of the in-the-trenches work that I’ve done. And from there I came to the National Trust and have been able to take what I was doing there for one region and work with areas all across the country.

RR: Can you talk a little bit about your first impressions and thoughts about the opportunities we have here in Southeast Ohio?

Webb: A lot of the work we’ve been doing [at the National Trust] in the last couple years has been looking at opportunities in rural regions, and I think increasingly we’ve been really trying to look more comprehensively at the whole idea of not just looking at heritage tourism, but looking at a preservation-based economic development strategy. And I think [Southeast Ohio] is ideal, this is the perfect region to look at this [kind of strategy].



In some ways one of the things that is so special about this region is the fact that so little has changed. So many times when I’m working in regions, they’ve already experienced a lot of development, which has taken away their natural features and their historic features. And I think one of the things that strikes me about here is that you’ve still got so much of that original context. So that’s on the plus side. I think the challenge is how to help people physically navigate the region and then how to have them understand the stories that you’ve got to tell.

RR: How do you respond to questions like, “Why don’t you just move everybody to where the jobs are?”

Webb: I think there are a lot of people who really appreciate the qualities of living in a place like this and wouldn’t necessarily want to go and live in a cookie-cutter, suburban neighborhood just to get a job. I think there are people who would need to do that, but I think, in some ways, what you’ve got here is what a lot of people think of as that archetypal American experience. And so I think to try to make this a place which is livable and accessible and appreciated has an awful lot of value.

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