Dr. Michael Holleran's Preservation Planning and Practice students had an opportunity to collaborate with the Leander Chamber of Commerce through the CityLab program during the Fall, 2015 semester. Leander is a town just northwest of Austin, on the move. It is planning for tremendous growth over the course of the next 50 years and would like to act now to develop and implement a program both recognizing and preserving unique historical community assets. The placemaking team sought to generate an inventory of tangible and intangible assets, building stock, as well as a classificatory system exploring fit of structures within Leander's specific vernacular landscape. This inventory might be utilized in order to recognize and preserve unique heritage, educate Leander newcomers, reinforce community identity and pride, and finally generate creative economic strategies for small businesses and tourism.
The placemaking team began by conducting archival research at the Williamson Museum and the Cedar Park library. Followed by an ethnography during which several local stakeholders, were interviewed. Finally over several episodes, the area designated as the historic city center, Old Town Leander was explored and mapped, building stock was classified and categorized, and assets beyond the confines of this area were identified. A comprehensive inventory was generated.
Tangible assets defined as, historical artifacts, or material residues of the past, that physically reveal local history, included antique promotional items from early 20th century stores, heirlooms, the prehistoric remains known as Leanderthal lady, dinosaur tracks, and old photos (etc.). Intangible assets, include significant historical characters, events, celebratory dates, and other non-material cultural capital unique to Leander, that should be remembered and commemorated. Leander founding and incorporation dates, the moniker 'windmill town,' and the traditional festival, 'Old Leander Days' are included within this category.
Leander was not a county seat and has few examples of stylistically significant architecture, however the architectural traditions that have emerged over the past 140 years and extant building stock speak to a dynamic and unique vernacular cultural landscape, worthy of consideration and celebration. Today's buildings within 'Old Town Leander' are classified within four categories: (1.) Contributing to a local vernacular landscape: Structure is over fifty years of age and demonstrates building materials, construction techniques, massing, and aesthetics indicative of localized traditions of vernacular architecture, and thus contributing to the cultural landscape. (2.) Non-contributing to a vernacular landscape: Structure is relatively new, and does not contribute to the vernacular landscape due to a dissonance in materials, massing or aesthetics. These structures include big-box stores, track homes, demonstrating global rather than local building strategies. (3.) Intermediate significance: A structure that is older but not historic (it is less than 50 years old). It may be emblematic of vernacular construction, or may have been extensively remodeled in recent years. While these structures do not appear historic or significant today, they may be so in the future. (4.) Complementary: A structure that is relatively new, but demonstrates construction techniques, materials, massing, and aesthetics that complement the extant vernacular cultural landscape.
The Leander historical assets inventory is a first step in generating a broader placemaking program and has been met with great enthusiasm by Leander community members. Ultimately, all communities large and small offer something unique, worth preserving and celebrating. The arbiters of historical significance should be the community members themselves. Heritage can be a potent tool in generating creative plans for commercial and civic growth.