Interview with Adrienne Burke
Principal Planner, Miami-Dade County
What led to your interest in historic preservation and planning?
I'm currently a Principal Planner for Miami-Dade County, and I work part-time with our long-range planning section and part-time in our Office of Historic Preservation. I have been in this field for over 10 years, and my undergraduate degree is in history. I have a law degree where I focused on environmental and land use law, as well as a Master's Degree in historic preservation and planning. When I graduated, I knew I didn’t want to be a “real lawyer” as I call it, although I did pass the bar. I wanted to go into planning because I enjoy writing and researching policy more than litigating policy.
I've always been very interested in environmental policy and natural resource policy, as well as historic preservation, because of the intersection of land and history. After graduating, I took a position as a planner in Fernandina Beach, Florida on Amelia Island, where I got to work in a small coastal community on a barrier island with a historic preservation program. That’s really what led to my interest in the intersection of sea level rise and climate change as related to cultural resource. In Fernandina Beach, I was working on our Coastal Management Element for our comprehensive plan. One of my niche interests within preservation is cemeteries, and thinking about our cemetery in Fernandina and its vulnerability to sea level rise led me to think about what climate change means to the historic resources as a whole. Back then, there were just a few of us early on in the preservation field talking about sea level rise in 2012 or 2013. People just weren't really talking about it yet. Those of us who were found each other, and that's how I met Lisa Craig many years ago.
What are you currently working on?
In 2019, the Office of Historic Preservation in Miami-Dade County completed a vulnerability assessment for its designated historic sites and districts. The assessment quantified the risk for all of our designated historic resources using a matrix to quantify and give a score to every property. This makes identifying our most vulnerable resources easier, and we're using that now as a basis to seek grants. We're also using the assessment when we're evaluating a site for potential historic designation. We use the matrix to determine a site’s vulnerability right from the get go, so we can address it in the report and bring it to the property owners’ attention. Then we can suggest any potential mitigation measures that the owners might want to consider. We received a grant last year to create an official historic preservation design guidelines document, which the County doesn't currently have. Resiliency and mitigation are going to be a big part of that document, which will affect how we review applications for rehabilitation and changes to structures. We're trying to build resiliency into everything we do.
What types of historic resources does Miami-Dade County have?
The majority of our designated sites are residential, which vary because our county is so big. Much of south Dade County is very rural and agricultural so we have a lot of historic homesteads, which are single family homes dating back to the early 20th century. We also have more recent historic districts, like Richmond Heights, a post-World War II subdivision that was specifically for African American veterans. Then we have things designated that aren’t structures—we have a survey monument, bridges, and cemeteries. Because a good number of our designated sites are archaeological sites, we have a County Archaeologist. One of his current projects is working with the Florida Public Archaeology Network doing a vulnerability assessment for the archaeological resources in the county.
One of our other big efforts that we're really excited about is an overall diversity and inclusion initiative. We're trying to be really mindful about making sure our sites and the sites we designate in the future are representative of our community and the demographics of our community. Diversity and inclusion are really connected to resiliency and preservation because there are a lot of pressures in Miami-Dade County related to climate gentrification. There is a lot of potential for people to be displaced from areas that are on higher ground, but those areas have a very rich historic and cultural connection because of the people who are there. We are trying to be thoughtful moving forward about the type of sites we designate, and we are lucky that our ordinance is very broad so we aren't limited to looking at architecture—we can look at cultural and social context, which allows us to have more flexibility with designations.
Is there anything you can do today to help prevent climate gentrification?
We're keeping it in mind when talking about having future survey work done or evaluating sites to designate. Right now, we can at least be mindful of the historic fabric of those communities proactively, so that if it starts to happen in the future, we're a little bit ahead of the curve. We are also looking at how to do more community outreach. One of the challenges with government regulatory programs is that they're not seen as public facing. There's a lot that historic preservation can learn from public history, and I think our government programs could move more in that direction. The challenge for our county with historic preservation is that we have a small staff with limited resources and time, but we are trying to figure out ways to do more engagement, even if it’s just offering more on our website for now. Our department is about to go through a website redesign, and we’re looking at using things like story maps and similar tools that will provide greater access to information. Hopefully as we can, we will undertake more outreach as part of the efforts around the diversity and inclusion initiative. We want to do more informal surveying and ask people to submit sites to us that they think are important, so that we can start to get some of that information more organically.
How has COVID and the whole pandemic impacted your resiliency planning?
I'm working with our long-range planning division on an update to our Community Health and Design Element of our comprehensive plan. We’ve been talking about what policies we might need to put in our comprehensive plan that are connected to things we've learned from COVID-19. COVID-19 is just another version of a disaster. In terms of resiliency, we're so focused on sea level rise, hurricanes and storm surge, and we have to remember that there are other types of resilience-related disasters. It's interesting to think from a long-range planning perspective about what could put in policy based off we've learned from the pandemic. As an example, one of the things that became really apparent during COVID-19, especially when everyone had to stay home, was whether people have access to an outdoor space where they live. Not just streets and parks, but yards or balconies. We’re considering what we can do through policy to make sure that new development incorporates something like that. We already have policies in our plan about open and green spaces, but knowing what we know now about a new dimension of what makes those spaces are so important will impact our policies change. It has been really interesting to think through how we can take lessons learned from the pandemic and apply them to policy.
Can you talk about a project that you're proud of?
I have a couple of favorite projects that I've worked on. I really enjoyed working on creating a master plan for the cemetery in Fernandina. I worked with a lot of community members and different departments in our city on that effort. We also incorporated sea level rise considerations into that plan, and I'm very proud of that too. Later, I helped with a project around several historically African-American schools in Nassau County, Florida. I worked with the schools’ alumni groups to get state historic markers for those locations, and we did a whole month of programming around one of the schools and its history as a Rosenwald School. I absolutely love those projects because I was working directly with the community to share pieces of history that a lot of people don't know about in the community and truly highlight how important they are.