Interview with Lisa Craig
What led to your interest in resilience planning? Are you from a community highly affected by natural disasters?
I lived for over 30 years in the D.C. Metro Area, where we had our fair share of significant storm events. I spent around ten years living in the Annapolis area, on Glebe Bay, which itself was a tributary off of the South River; I had water behind my house all of the time. That was my first real introduction to the topic of rising tides, being required to have flood insurance in order to get my mortgage. But what connected historic preservation and changing climate for me was the issue of tidal flooding in downtown Annapolis, which is a National Historical Landmark district. In 2013, this came up as a topic for a colleague of mine at the National Trust for historic preservation, looking at communities around the country worthy of “National Treasure” designation. We were talking about some of the urgent issues in Annapolis and why it was likely a “National Treasure” being a National Historic Landmark city with three centuries of historic architecture, increasingly impacted by rising tides and subsidence. Shortly after that discussion, the Union of Concerned Scientists put out its report, National Landmarks at Risk, which identified among other nationally significant sites, Annapolis as having the greatest increase in tidal flooding in the United States in the past 50 years. That was what launched my interest and involvement in addressing the long term impact of sea level rise and climate change on historic communities, and coastal and river communities in particular. Then it became a matter of finding the right vehicle by which we could start to plan and prepare for adaptation of our historic landmark district.
When you were working in Annapolis, you helped develop the Weather It Together initiative?
Yes, we developed Weather It Together with a 32-person public / private stakeholder group including local, state and federal agencies, business owners, and environmental activists. We decided to operate under some type of cohesive brand and we came up with the Weather It Together moniker. The whole process of engaging the public over a period of about three and a half years resulted in not only the development of a plan, but also the development of a process by which to connect residents, business owners, elected officials and community leaders in the process of developing a plan and creating greater awareness and urgency for adaptation. The Weather It Together plan can be reviewed and adopted for other communities; it can get the conversation started and is a unique resource and template for developing hazard mitigation plans in historic communities.
What is the importance of preserving historical landmarks for communities?
It’s really a sense of identity. If you think of the places people love to visit, they’re often historic communities. They’re places like Charleston, Savannah, New York City, Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco and my former home of Annapolis. When you start thinking about these places, you think about the landmarks, the buildings, the skylines. You think about strolling the waterfront and shopping the downtown businesses in those historic properties. You think about those landmark buildings, but you also think about the natural heritage, the environmental resource base. It’s that relationship between the built assets and the environment that represents the people and the culture of generations of citizens of that community. And then there’s the newer concept of sustainable resources. I’ve always respected the sentiment that “historic preservation is the ultimate recycling.” Reusing a historic building - if you think about the energy that went into the production of the bricks, the construction and labor, the benefits to the local economy and individual livelihoods, it all has embodied energy and value. Looking at the needs of the community and the assets already built; not creating greater detriment to the environment by reusing those resources; that to me is a critical value of historic preservation. Historic landmarks are not just part of a community’s cultural identity, they also contribute to the saving irreplaceable community resources.
Can you talk about what The Craig Group does and why you are uniquely equipped to help communities create resilience plans?
With The Craig Group, one of the things I value the most is that we use the term partners. We are your partners in preservation, planning and policy. Nothing gets done by one firm or one team alone. My firm’s philosophy is to work with the local communities to meet them where they are. If you have never done any type of resilience or preservation planning, or you’re part of a small community, with limited resources and no established historic preservation program or a local government that is looking to deal with this very large issue of resilience, you need to take the first step. One of the things that my team can do is to work with you to inform your local community about the risks of flooding and sea level rise, but even more importantly to hear what their concerns are for the future resilience of the community. That is primarily what our firm is focused on, understanding how the community values the cultural, historical and natural resources at risk, how to best communicate and engage with citizens and their leaders regarding their concerns, and soliciting their views both on the places that matter most and the urgent need to balance preservation and resilience. With that, we can then help them develop an action plan. Some things
they can do in the short term, just getting barriers for windows and doors for example. Then, we need to look longer term and even beyond adapting the built environment for future conditions. For example, how do we better plan for future disasters? I think we're learning a lot right now, unfortunately with our personal and professional experiences with COVID that pertains to other types of disaster events. In preservation, resilience is about the built environment, but it's also about the experiences of people with, in and around those community landmarks. Knowing how to plan for future emergencies for people and places in historic communities is about saving lives, livelihoods and landmarks.
How do you build trust with communities?
We start off by making sure that you have the full list of who needs to be at the table. Sometimes the clients that I work with have a starting list: the Director of Public Works, the City Manager, the emergency operations crew. And sometimes it stops there. We ask them to think beyond that short list. You need your economic development director because a disaster has a huge impact on your local economy. If it's a resilience plan and a historic city, you need to have your preservation staff involved. And we encourage them to look deeper into their community to the ones you're going to count on to better prepare their properties, their organizations and their neighborhoods. One of our key partners in Annapolis was the US Naval Academy, which shares the shoreline with the city. It’s those partners, you’re neighbors, that you pull in to deepen and broaden your list of stakeholders. Your stage agencies act as conduits for state and federal resources, technical assistance, and emergency assistance funding. We then put in place communication tools. We develop a brand, conduct a community values survey, create a storymap, encouraging the residents and businesses to share their stories or photographs about past disasters or the impacts of climate change on social media, or even developing an Esri storymap as a way to tell the story about flooding or a history of disaster and what things changed over time. We host community forums where people gather together and talk about their experiences with place, sharing with us their concerns for the potential loss of built and natural resources. We look at future scenarios and talk about what approaches to adaptation work best from the point of view of economic resilience or public infrastructure or natural heritage. We bring in experts, researchers and authors like John Englander and Jeff Goodell who give the public a baseline understanding of the science of climate change. We'll do radio interviews with elected officials, host walking tours of the flood impact areas, share 3D visualization and modeling of what downtown or the historic district will look like in 2030, 2060 or 2100. These are the kinds of tools we use to develop relationships with community members and engage them in in coming up with ideas for how best to retrofit their community for future rising tides.
For more information on historic preservation and climate resilience, check out these resources.
“Weather It Together: A Cultural Resource Hazard Mitigation Plan” and Landmark at Risk, an Esri storymap by Lisa Craig, et.al City of Annapolis “Miami: How Rising Sea Levels Endanger South Florida” by Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone Magazine The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell High Tide On Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis by John Englander National Landmarks at Risk: How Rising Seas, Floods, and Wildfires Are Threatening the United States’ Most Cherished Historic Sites (Union of Concerned Scientists) Encroaching Tides: How Sea Level Rise and Tidal Flooding Threaten US East and Gulf Coast Communities over the Next 30 Years (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Ms. Craig serves as Principal for The Craig Group, LLC. Equipped with her 25+ years of experience, she leads a team of design and planning professionals to support community leaders, local government and nonprofit organizations in protecting the economic value, architectural integrity and cultural heritage of historic communities. Previous to starting her own firm, Ms. Craig served for seven years as Chief of Historic Preservation for the City of Annapolis. Locally she serves on the Board of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce. Nationally, she serves as a CAMP trainer for the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions