KU News Release

October 2, 2012
Contact: Charles Linn, School of Architecture, Design and Planning, 785-864-4336

Urban planning faculty member awarded Fitch Mid-Career Grant

Daniel Serda

LAWRENCE — The James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation just announced that it has awarded an $11,500 2012 Mid-Career Grant to Daniel Serda, lecturer in the KU Department of Urban Planning.

Serda has been on the KU faculty since 2001 and has served on the Board of Advisors of the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 2008. He was formerly the director of the KU School of Architecture, Design and Planning’s Kansas City Design Center.

The grant will further Serda’s research for his book, “Nuestra Herencia Americana (Our American Heritage): Challenges and Opportunities for Historic Preservation in America’s Latino Communities.”

The book will explore the challenges and accomplishments of Latino communities engaged in preservation through case studies and an examination of the challenges that must be overcome to mount successful preservation efforts.

According to Serda, the lack of direct Hispanic engagement in the preservation movement helps explain the limited Hispanic presence on the National Register of Historic Places. Less than one half of 1 percent of sites on the register have a connection to Hispanic communities, he said.

While these communities often have legends and oral histories that tie special historic events to specific buildings, parlaying the connections into successful preservation efforts can still be difficult.

“People in neighborhoods that are economically disadvantaged want to see development,” he said. “They want to see new things, not old stuff. Sometimes familiarity does breed contempt.

“The internal tension over whether something is worth saving,” he says, “is difficult to talk about openly in the context of promoting the preservation of places that matter to minority communities.”

There is also a tendency to want to get rid of buildings that remind people of a painful time in the history of their neighborhoods. Serda illustrates this with the story of a segregated Mexican school in Kansas City, Kan., destroyed by a flood in 1951.

“The Mexican-American community actually celebrated the building’s destruction, because it led to the integration of Mexican children into majority Anglo schools long before Brown v. Board of Education,” Serda said.

“People are often not interested in saving reminders of a difficult past, which are actually seen as a blemish on the community.”

James Marston Fitch was a prolific author, urban planner and historic preservationist and a founder of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The neighborhood activist Jane Jacobs said of Fitch, "He was the principal character in making the preservation of historic buildings practical and feasible and popular."

The Foundation’s mission is to support professionals in the field of historic preservation through mid-career grants. The sums of up to $15,000 are awarded annually.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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