Provincetown has long been known for its rich history and vibrant arts scene. With a thriving tourism industry, the town is constantly looking for ways to preserve its past while embracing the future. That's why Town staff and members of the community participated in the 2023 "Keeping History Above Water" conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
This annual conference focuses on the preservation of historic coastal communities and cultural heritage sites in the face of rising sea levels and other climate change impacts. These conferences bring together experts, practitioners, policymakers, and community members to share knowledge and strategies for addressing the complex challenges of climate change and historic preservation. For Provincetown, the conference was an opportunity to learn about best practices and innovative solutions from similar communities and showcase our own efforts to protect our town's history.
Tim Famulare, the Community Development Director for Provincetown, spoke about the importance of attending the conference. He said, "Provincetown is a coastal community that is highly vulnerable to the hazards of sea level rise. We need to work together with other communities to find solutions to these challenges. The Keeping History Above Water conference was an opportunity to not only share our experiences, but learn from others as well."
At the conference, Michela Murphy (Historic District Commission, Harbor Committee) and Famulare participated in a presentation and panel discussion led by Regina "Ginny" Binder (Local Comprehensive Plan Committee) titled, “It Takes a Willage.”
Binder spoke on how only by raising awareness and working collaboratively across disciplines, boards and committees, etc. can we find resilient solutions to the challenges we face related to historic preservation and climate change. She specifically documented Provincetown’s efforts to preserve our historic buildings and landmarks in the face of rising sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events. She shared stories about the challenges of maintaining buildings that were constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries, and how the town is working to adapt to a changing climate. Murphy described the tensions the Historic District Commission addresses when a historic structure must be elevated to comply with strict floodplain code requirements, despite the negative effects on the character of the streetscape.
“My presentation was based on what I’ve learned through work around the world about how people want to be heard and want to express their views,” Binder said. “My role as a place practitioner is to weave those views into a vision. Hence it takes a ‘willage’ because, after all, buildings don’t make place, people make place.”
The conference provided Provincetown and several other New England communities with an opportunity to share experiences and lessons learned from the flooding that occurred during the winter storm of Dec. 23, 2022. By working together, historic coastal communities can find solutions to the challenges of sea level rise and severe coastal storms and ensure that our cultural heritage is preserved for future generations.
Famulare noted that the rapid climate change we have been experiencing will require the Provincetown community to make complicated choices about how to adapt to sea level rise. He added, “But adaptation is part of the fabric of Provincetown’s history. When the fishing village on Long Point could no longer survive on that spit of sand, the homes were floated to the mainland of Provincetown. Despite the difficult changes we will see in the coming decades, our community will endure.”
Provincetown is committed to continuing this important work and looks forward to future collaborations with residents and other communities.